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Franz Boas Discuss The Contribution Of Anthropology

1741 words - 7 pages

Franz Boas has been considered by many as the "Father of American Anthropology", as he was a pioneer in breaking down the American isolationism, intolerance and misinformation about and biological diversity and linguistics.

Born in Minden, Westphalia, Germany, in 1858, from a Jewish family, Boas early thinking was based on the ideals of the 1848 German revolution and followed his parents’ intellectual freedom (Stocking, 1974). However, Boas did not set out with the specific ambition to study human cultures, and after attending the universities of Heidelberg, Bonn and Kiel, in 1881 he earned a PhD. in Physics, with a minor in geography. Marked by the influence of Rudolf Virchow,
who led the founding of the Berliner Gesellshaft für Anthropologie, Ethnologie und Urgeschichte (Berlin Society of Anthropology, Ethnology and Prehistory), his academic formation gave Boas a strong liberal tradition and an attitude towards race, which rejected the theories that recognized the existence of racial hierarchies based on cultural differences (Stocking, 1974). In 1883, as part of his training at the University of Heidelberg, Boas set out on his first expedition with the two gains of mapping the Canadian Arctic coastline and indulging his new interest in culture, which as a result of the journey, became interest in finding what determines human behaviour. "A year of life spent as an Eskimo among Eskimos", Boas (1938, p. 202) said, "had a profound influence upon the development of my views, […] because it led me away from my former interests and towards the desire to understand what determines the behaviour of human beings." His study of indigenous people, of their appearance, their language and traditions, allowed him to overcome the concept learnt as a geographer, that culture is shaped exclusively by the environment, recognizing the importance of language as a determinant as well. Language indeed, is more than simply a mean to make yourself understood, but it is part of the essence of the culture, as a vehicle to transmit cultural identities (Stocking, 1974).

Anthropology was beginning to take form and develop when Boas entered the picture. It offered him an opportunity to get some ideas of the dynamics of culture, their growth, development, adaptations, and of many other aspects fundamental to understand your own culture and way of life, as well as the perfect mean to help better the human condition by eliminating ignorance. Following the example of Malinowski, at a time in which Anthropology was mostly peopled by untrained adventurers and armchair philosophers, Boas brought the methodology of natural sciences into fieldwork, believing that a meticulous and direct collection of ethnographic data, along with living among the people studied, were essential factors to develop an accurate description of another culture (Helm, 2001). However, unlike Malinowski, who did not believed in historical reconstructions, Boas used a historical method and refused...

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