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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.


The Weirdest Guest — William Z. Ripley: Economist, Financial Historian, and Racial Theorist September 26, 2011

Posted by Christopher Donohue in History of Economic Thought, History of the Human Sciences.
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William Ripley’s (October 13, 1867 – August 16, 1941) long career as a writer, public servant, and academician presents nightmarish problems of reconstruction for the historian.  Ripley, at one time vice president of the  American Economic Association, was an expert on railroads and trusts, a competent historian of the financial history of colonial Virginia, an astute observer on the labor problem in both Europe and America, and, with the publication of the Races of Europe (1899), one of the preeminent sociologists of his day.

William Z. Ripley's Races of Europe

The longevity of Ripley’s influence poses problems for the scope of the academical truism of the “revolution” brought about by Boas’ cultural relativism, as well as the intriguing connections between the Oxford School of Anthropology and American racial theory.  Such was the enduring reputation of Ripley’s work that it was revised in 1946 by Carlton Coon, an important twentieth century physical anthropologist who taught at Harvard.  Coon’s mentor, Earnest Albert Hooton, a student of R. R. Marett, was a nasty piece of work, producing works in the same mental universe as Lothrop Stoddard’s The Rising Tide of Color Against White World-Supremacy (1920). (more…)