Franz Boas

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See also Wikipedia's article about "Franz Boas".

Franz Boas was a notable professor of anthropology at Columbia in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Known as the "father of American anthropology," his work led to the foundation, at Columbia, of one of the first anthropology PhD programs in the country, and influenced many later significant anthropologists, including Ruth Benedict and Margaret Mead.

Architect of modern anthropology

He was first appointed a lecturer in physical anthropology in 1896. At the time, Columbia had several other anthropologists, scattered among various departments. Boas' achievement was to bring them together under one roof. He went on to develop the "four field" approach to the discipline, which unified cultural and physical anthropology with linguistics and archaeology. In the early 20th century, this structure of the discipline distinguished American anthropology from that of other Western countries. As a matter of course, Boas influenced not only future anthropologists, but also linguists like Edward Sapir.

War dissent

When the US entered World War I in 1917, University President Nicholas Murray Butler sent a questionnaire to each member of the faculty asking how he or she planned to assist the war effort. By way of reply, Boas drew a line through the question and simply scribbled: "Mind my own business."[1]


Boas died in dramatic fashion: on December 21, 1942, while having dinner in Faculty House, he had a heart attack and fell, limp, into the arms of none other than Claude Lévi-Strauss.