Franz Boas

Essay by kevymacUniversity, Bachelor'sA-, May 2006

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"My chief idea in this is that these tribes mist be studied in relation to one

another and that only someone who understands the East will be able to thoroughly

understand the West".(Muller-Willi p.97). Words written by a man who is now

regarded as being the founder of modern American anthropology, Franz Boas. The views

of culture expressed by Boas throughout his anthropological career have shaped how his

generation and possibly all generations after him view culture.

Franz Boas was born in Minden Germany on July 9, 1958 as one of 6 children. He

graduated from the University of Heidelberg in 1881, and earned his PhD from the

University of Kiel. At first he specialized in physics, but later moved toward physical,

then cultural geography. (Kroeber et al p.5) In 1883 he went to Baffin Island to conduct

geographic research on the impact of the physical environment on native migrations.

While studying the Inuit of Baffin Island he developed a strong interest in non-western

cultures. Boas stayed with the Inuit for 1 year, and although his time there may have

been short, it would prove to be very significant. (Kroeber et al p.5-28) The field work

methods he came up with during that time had a large influence on the "development of

cultural anthropology as an academic discipline in general". (Stocking p.11) The first

method is "the observation, analysis and interpretation of human environmental

relations in the arctic, i.e., the Inuit's organization of the utilization of space and recourses

in a seasonal rhythm under specific natural and geographical conditions". The second is

"the development and rise of ethnological and geographical (interdisciplinary) modes of

operation, which led to a cultural-anthropological field research method". (Stocking p.11)

Boas believed that when researching a culture so different from your own, nothing

is too...