Franz Boas was born in 1858 in Germany and his early life was spent studying music and physics. His parents were both artists and he grew up in a liberal, intellectual atmosphere. He began his studies at the University of Kiel, but soon transferred to the University of Berlin, where he studied physics under the great physicist Hermann von Helmholtz.
After graduating in 1880, Boas decided to study anthropology. He was one of the first people to study anthropology in Germany, and he was greatly influenced by the work of Rudolf Virchow, a prominent German pathologist and anthropologist.
In 1883, Boas went to Bremen to do fieldwork with the American anthropologist George Hunt. This was his first exposure to scientific anthropology. He then moved to Paris, where he studied under the French anthropologist Paul Broca.
In 1886, Boas immigrated to the United States and took a job as an assistant at the American Museum of Natural History in New York City. He soon became one of the museum’s curators.
Franz Boas – A trailblazer in Cultural Anthropology
Boas was a highly talented scholar and he published extensively on anthropology, linguistics, and archaeology. Some of his most famous works include “The Mind of Primitive Man” and “Race, Language, and Culture”. He also wrote several textbooks on anthropology, which were used in universities throughout the United States.
Boas’ most important contribution to anthropology was his insistence that it should be a scientific discipline, based on empirical evidence rather than speculation. He helped to establish anthropology as a legitimate academic discipline and was the first person to teach an anthropology course in the US. Boaz trained and mentored many of the leading anthropologists of the next generation, including Margaret Mead and Ruth Benedict.
“Franz Boas was the father of American anthropology and the greatest anthropologist who ever lived”.Margaret Mead
Boas was a great innovator and he helped to develop many of the methods and techniques that are still used in anthropology today. He is also responsible for coining the terms “culture” and “ethnography.”
He also argued for the importance of cultural relativism. This posited that different cultures should be judged by their own standards, not by the standards of Western civilization.
Franz Boas died in 1942. He left a huge legacy in the field of anthropology. His work laid the foundation for future generations of anthropologists, and he helped to make anthropology into the respected field that it is today.
For Further Reading
- Jane Goodall – a pioneering primatologist
- Marshall Sahlins (1930 – 2021) – Race is a Social Construct
- Saba Mahmood – a strong voice in the anthropology of religion and post-colonialism
- Claude Lévi-Strauss’s Structuralism and its Influence on Anthropological Thought
- Clifford Geertz – the man who pioneered “thick description” in anthropology
- Ruth Benedict: The anthropologist who believed that cultures have personalities
- Michael Taussig – Doctor and Anthropologist
- Bronislaw Malinowski: The Father of Field Research
- Margaret Mead: A Pioneering Anthropologist
- Franz Boas: The Father of American Anthropology
- Émile Durkheim: The Father of Sociology and His Contributions to Anthropology
Disclosure: Please note that some of the links in this post are affiliate links. When you use one of these affiliate links, the company compensates us. At no additional cost to you, we will earn a commission, which helps us run this blog and keep our in-depth content free of charge for all our readers.