Franz Boas’s 1940 Race, Language and Culture is a monumentally important text in the history of its discipline, collecting the articles and essays that helped make Boas known as the ‘father of American anthropology.’
An encapsulation of a career dedicated to fighting against the false theories of so-called ‘scientific racism’ that abounded in the first half of the 20th-century, Race, Language and Culture is one of the most historically significant texts in its field – and central to its arguments and impact are Boas’s formidable interpretative skills. It could be said, indeed, that Race, Language and Culture is all about the centrality of interpretation in questioning our assumptions about the world.
In critical thinking, interpretation is the ability to clarify and posit definitions for the terms and ideas that make up an argument. Boas’s work demonstrates the importance of another vital element: context. For Boas, who argued passionately for ‘cultural relativism,’ it was vital to interpret individual cultures by their own standards and context – not by ours. Only through comparing and contrasting the two can we reach, he suggested, a better understanding of humankind.
Though our own questions might be smaller, it is always worth considering the crucial element Boas brought to interpretation: how does context change definition?
Table of Contents
Ways in to the text
Who was Franz Boas?
What does Race, Language and Culture Say?
Why does Race, Language and Culture Matter?
Section 1: Influences
Module 1: The Author and the Historical Context
Module 2: Academic Context
Module 3: The Problem
Module 4: The Author's Contribution
Section 2: Ideas
Module 5: Main Ideas
Module 6: Secondary Ideas
Module 7: Achievement
Module 8: Place in the Author's Work
Section 3: Impact
Module 9: The First Responses
Module 10: The Evolving Debate
Module 11: Impact and Influence Today
Module 12: Where Next?
Glossary of Terms
People Mentioned in the Text
Dr Anna Seiferle-Valencia holds a doctorate in anthropology from the University of Harvard.