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Boas, Franz (1858–1942)

JAMES PHILLIPS


Subject Literature

DOI: 10.1111/b.9780631207535.1997.x


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North American anthropologist. Often regarded as the founder of modern anthropology in North America, Boas was also a major contributor to early twentieth-century studies of Native American C ultures . Born in Westphalia, Germany, he studied geography, physics, and mathematics, receiving his doctorate at Kiel in 1881. The following year, he accompanied a meteorological expedition to Greenland, where “a year spent as an Eskimo among Eskimos… led me … towards a desire to understand what determines the behavior of human beings.” Emigrating to the United States, Boas taught geography and anthropology at Clark University and then at Columbia University until 1937, where he remained Professor Emeritus until his death. His students included Alfred K roeber , Margaret M ead , and others who became major figures in twentieth-century American anthropology and C ultural studies . In place of grand theories or laws, Boas insisted instead upon the careful recording of even apparently small details of cultural expression as the only solid empirical basis for understanding and appreciating human behavior in all its diversity and richness – an approach which became known as historical particularism. Criticizing biological determinism (“nature”), he emphasized the primacy of culture (“nurture”) in human development, engaging what became one of the crucial intellectual and ideological debates of ... log in or subscribe to read full text

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