1st Edition

Anthropology and Modern Life

By Franz Boas Copyright 2021
    226 Pages
    by Routledge

    226 Pages
    by Routledge

    Franz Boas (1858–1942) is widely regarded as the founder of American anthropology. He influenced an astonishing variety of scholars and researchers, from the anthropologists Margaret Mead and Ruth Benedict, to the philosopher W. E. B. DuBois, and novelist Zora Neale Hurston. Towards the end of his life he also lectured widely in an attempt to educate the public on the dangers of Nazi ideology.

    Anthropology and Modern Life demonstrates the incredibly rich and fertile range of Boas’s thought, engaging with controversies that resonate loudly today: the problem of race and racial types; heredity versus environment; the significance of intelligence tests; open versus closed societies; the ‘nature versus nurture debate’; and nationality and nationalism.

    Believing passionately that science should be used to break down racial and cultural barriers, from the book's very opening Boas shatters the myth that anthropology is simply a collection of ‘curious facts about exotic peoples’. Thanks to Boas's influence, anthropologists and other social scientists began to see that differences among the races resulted not from physiological factors, but from historical events and circumstances, and that race itself was a cultural construct.

    This Routledge Classics edition includes a new Foreword by Regna Darnell and an Introduction and Afterword by Herbert S. Lewis, who details Franz Boas's life, influence, and ideals.

    "In writing the present book I desired to show that some of the most firmly rooted opinions of our times appear from a wider point of view as prejudices, and that a knowledge of anthropology enables us to look with greater freedom at the problems confronting our civilization." - Franz Boas, Anthropology and Modern Life

    Foreword to the Routledge Classics Edition Regna Darnell

    Introduction Herbert S. Lewis

    1. What Is Anthropology?

    2. The Problem of Race

    3. The Interrelation of Races

    4. Nationalism

    5. Eugenics

    6. Criminology

    7. Stability of Culture

    8. Education

    9. Modern Civilisation and Primitive Culture

    Afterword Herbert S Lewis




    Franz Boas was born in Germany in 1858 and educated at the University of Kiel. His first anthropological fieldwork was among the Inuit in Northern Canada in 1883, a turning point in Boas’s life as he became fascinated with the role of culture. He began lecturing at the University of Columbia in 1896, establishing the first department of Anthropology in the United States and becoming Columbia’s first professor of Anthropology, a position he held for thirty-seven years. He influenced an astonishing variety of scholars and researchers, from the anthropologists Margaret Mead and Ruth Benedict to the philosopher W. E. B. DuBois and writer Zora Neale Hurston. Boas is the early-twentieth-century scholar most responsible for discrediting the then-dominant scientific theories of racial superiority. Through his elaboration of cultural relativism as an alternative theoretical framework, he came to have an enormous influence on the development of American anthropology. The Mind of Primitive Man (1911), demonstrated that there was no such thing as a ‘pure’ race or a superior one. His books were banned in Hitler's Germany. He was a fierce advocate of intellectual freedom, supported many democratic causes, and was the founder of the American Committee for Democracy and Intellectual Freedom.

    "…for a college student to read the Bhagavad Gita in a Great Books class, for racism to be rejected as both morally bankrupt and self-evidently stupid, and for anyone, regardless of their gender expression, to claim workplaces and boardrooms as fully theirs—if all of these things are not innovations or aspirations but the regular, taken-for-granted way of organizing society, then we have the ideas championed by the Boas circle to thank for it." - Charles King, author of Gods of the Upper Air: How a Circle of Renegade Anthropologists Reinvented Race, Sex, and Gender in the Twentieth Century

    "…the father of American cultural anthropology and the scholar who taught generations how to think about human diversity without hierarchy." - Kwame Anthony Appiah, The New York Review of Books