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Franz Boas[edit]

Franz Boas

Franz Boas(July 9, 1858 – December 21, 1942) was a German-American anthropologist and a pioneer of modern anthropology who has been called the "Father of American Anthropology". Like many such pioneers, he trained in other disciplines; he received his doctorate in Physics, and did post-doctoral work in Geography. He is famed for applying the Scientific method to the study of Human Cultures and Societies, a field which was previously based on the formulation of grand theories around anecdotal knowledge.

Boas's work in physical anthropology brought together his interest in Darwinian evolution with his interest in migration as a cause of change. His most important research in this field was his study of changes in body form among children of immigrants in New York. Boas's primary interest — in symbolic and material culture and in language — was the study of processes of change; he therefore set out to determine whether bodily forms are also subject to processes of change.

Boas has had an enduring influence on anthropology. Virtually all anthropologists today accept Boas's commitment to empiricism and his methodological cultural relativism. Moreover, virtually all cultural anthropologists today share Boas's commitment to field research involving extended residence, learning the local language, and developing social relationships with informants. In his 1963 book, Race: The History of an Idea in America, Thomas Gossett wrote that "It is possible that Boas did more to combat race prejudice than any other person in history."