Franz Boas (1858-1942)

It is a question only of a few years, when every thing reminding us of America as it was at the time of its discovery will have perished. (Boas in a letter to Jesup, 1898)

German-American anthropologist. Boas was the most important figure in American anthropology during the prime of his career. As a progressive and a Jewish immigrant, Boas opposed the racist, genetically deterministic eugenics movement that was spearheaded by New York area scientific figures like Davenport, Madison Grant, William Hornaday, and Osborn. In contrast to this view, Boas argued that behavioral differences resulted from cultural traditions. Boas was heavily influenced by the anti-evolutionary views of Virchow, with whom he was personally acquainted. Although Boas sometimes leaned towards neo-Lamarckism, he generally opposed evolutionary explanations of human behavior. Combined with Watson's behaviorist movement in psychology, Boas' brand of cultural determinism overcame eugenics in the United States during the 1930's. Most of his research concerned Native Americans, particularly of the Pacific Northwest. From 1897-1902 Boas headed the Jesup North Pacific Expedition, funded by a patron of the American Museum. Boas' field work in Puerto Rico was part of Britton's survey.

Boas after joining the American Museum. From Baatz, p. 192.


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