- NAME: Franz Boas
- OCCUPATION: Scientist, Academic Author
- BIRTH DATE: July 09, 1858
- DEATH DATE: December 22, 1942
- EDUCATION: University of Heidelberg, University of Bonn, University of Kiel
- PLACE OF BIRTH: Minden, Germany
- PLACE OF DEATH: New York, New York
- Full Name: Franz Uri Boas
- Full Name: Franz Boas
Best Known For
Franz Boas was a German-born anthropologist who founded the relativistic, culture-centered school of American anthropology that dominated 20th century thought.
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In 1911, Boas published The Mind of Primitive Man, a series of lectures on culture and race. In it, Boas explored further thoughts on cultural relativism, debunking then-current ideas suggesting the superiority of Western civilization over less-developed societies based on racial criteria. In the 1920s, Boas's book was often referred to by those who opposed new U.S. immigration restrictions based on supposed racial differences. At the other end of the spectrum,
in the 1930s his book was burned by the Nazis and his Ph.D. from Germany's University of Kiel was rescinded.
Boas enlarged and updated The Mind of Primitive Man in 1937, and published Race, Language and Culture in 1940. After his retirement, in 1936, Boas responded to the steady rise of the Nazis in Germany and Hitler's thoughts on a "master race" by crystallizing his ideas about racism in articles published in popular scientific journals, some of which were collected after his death in Race and Democratic Society (1945). He also lectured widely in an attempt to educate the public on the nature of race and the dangers of Nazi ideology.
To Boas, anthropology was a holistic and eclectic field of study, so to assess theories of cultural differences, one must be familiar with biology, interrelations of humans and their environment and such specific criteria as human migration, nutrition, child-rearing customs and disease, to name a few.
What made Boas's theories truly revolutionary, however, was that while anthropologists have generally believed that humans make up a single species, few scholars of his time believed that different races within the species showed equal ability to achieve cultural development. Because of Boas's influence, anthropologists and other social scientists began to see that differences among the races resulted not from physiological factors, but from historical events and circumstances, and that race itself was a cultural construct.
In the end, Boas contributed to all four branches of anthropology, in studies ranging from racial classification to linguistics. He influenced a wide variety of scholars and researchers that followed, from Margaret Mead to W.E.B. Du Bois, and pioneered the study of anthropology across the United States, both before his death in 1942 and since.
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