The Fateful Hoaxing of Margaret Mead: A Historical Analysis of Her Samoan Research

By Derek Freeman | Go to book overview

1
Franz Boas:
The "Incorrigible Idealist"

ALFRED KROEBER, WHO KNEW FRANZ BOAS WELL, wrote of him in 1943: "So decisive were his judgments, and so strong his feelings, that his character had in it much of the daemonic. His convictions sprang from so deep down, and manifested themselves so powerfully, that to the run of shallower men there was something ultra-human or unnatural about him. . . . In consequence, he was literally worshipped by some who came under his influence.""Dynamic and wiry,""well-proportioned in every limb in age as well as youth," Boas's "face and head" had in them, Kroeber said, "something aquiline, resolute, decisive and poised." For Kroeber, Franz Boas was "of the Titans--a self-disciplined Titan," with "a rugged, massive, powerful personality of great caliber, who drove his engine through to the accomplishment of whatever the task in hand seemed to him to be"; he was the "facile princeps" of his profession, who "saw through the fallacies of others" yet "refrained from committing his own." 1

These are capacious claims, but they are matched by those of other American followers of Boas. In 1940, Robert Lowie ended a review in Science with the words: "In the anthropological science of his time Boas has been the great exemplar, fearless of authority, relentlessly self-critical, driven by a sacred thirst to ever new Pierian springs, gaining ever deeper insights into the nature of man." And, in 1941, Alexander Goldenweiser wrote of Boas as having come from nineteenth-century Germany, like some theomorphic culture-hero, to bestow clarification and scientific fiber upon American anthropology. 2

-17-

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