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Franz Boas and His Contemporaries October 15, 2013

Posted by Christopher Donohue in History of Economic Thought, History of the Human Sciences.
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Franz Boas

Franz Boas’ (July 9, 1858 – December 21, 1942) The Mind of Primitive Man occupies a cherished place in not only the anthropological canon, but also in anthropology’s disciplinary self-understanding.  In its 1938, expanded edition, Boas’ chapters provide a very interesting glimpse at the landscape of ideas which defined early 20th century ethnography and other social sciences.

One of Boas’ most difficult chapters was the fifth, titled: “The Instability of Human Types.”  The roots of this chapter lay in his landmark 1916 essay, “New Evidence in Regard to the Instability of Human Types.”  Building on the claims of not only his work on immigrants and H. P. Bowditch’s important, though forgotten, 1877 study, “The Growth of Children,” he concluded that not only was human stature variable, but more importantly, there existed variability in both the cephalic index and the width of the face.  This led him to consider how far the bodily features of man can be modified by so-called physiological changes brought about by conditions in the physical and social environment.