Franz Boas


Franz Boas

Shaping Anthropology and Fostering Social Justice

Rosemary Lévy Zumwalt

Critical Studies in the History of Anthropology Series

648 pages
16 photographs, 3 tables, appendix, index


December 2022


$39.95 Add to Cart
eBook (EPUB)
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December 2022


$39.95 Add to Cart
eBook (PDF)
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December 2022


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About the Book

Franz Boas defined the concept of cultural relativism and reoriented the humanities and social sciences away from race science toward an antiracist and anticolonialist understanding of human biology and culture. Franz Boas: Shaping Anthropology and Fostering Social Justice is the second volume in Rosemary Lévy Zumwalt’s two-part biography of the renowned anthropologist and public intellectual.

Zumwalt takes the reader through the most vital period in the development of Americanist anthropology and Boas’s rise to dominance in the subfields of cultural anthropology, physical anthropology, ethnography, and linguistics. Boas’s emergence as a prominent public intellectual, particularly his opposition to U.S. entry into World War I, reveals his struggle against the forces of nativism, racial hatred, ethnic chauvinism, scientific racism, and uncritical nationalism.

Boas was instrumental in the American cultural renaissance of the 1920s and 1930s, training students and influencing colleagues such as Melville Herskovits, Zora Neale Hurston, Benjamin Botkin, Alan Lomax, Langston Hughes, and others involved in combating racism and the flourishing Harlem Renaissance. He assisted German and European émigré intellectuals fleeing Nazi Germany to relocate in the United States and was instrumental in organizing the denunciation of Nazi racial science and American eugenics. At the end of his career Boas guided a network of former student anthropologists, who spread across the country to university departments, museums, and government agencies, imprinting his social science more broadly in the world of learned knowledge.

Franz Boas is a magisterial biography of Franz Boas and his influence in shaping not only anthropology but also the sciences, humanities, social science, visual and performing arts, and America’s public sphere during a period of great global upheaval and democratic and social struggle.

Author Bio

Rosemary Lévy Zumwalt is emerita vice president for academic affairs and dean of the college and professor emerita of anthropology at Agnes Scott College. She is the author of numerous books, including Franz Boas: The Emergence of the Anthropologist (Nebraska, 2019) and American Folklore Scholarship: A Dialogue of Dissent, and is coauthor of Franz Boas and W. E. B. Du Bois at Atlanta University, 1906.


"Zumwalt's lively style and abundant use of quotes make readers feel they are present."—A. B. Kehoe, Choice

“Rosemary Lévy Zumwalt knows Franz Boas, his world, and his students as no one else. In this powerful work she presents the struggles for both scientific truth and social justice of the person who made American anthropology the powerful intellectual, scholarly, and moral endeavor it was for most of the twentieth century.”—Herbert S. Lewis, author of In Defense of Anthropology: An Investigation of the Critique of Anthropology

“This even-handed, intimate portrait of Franz Boas is timely. Zumwalt hangs Boas’s North Star—that the more you learn of our world and individuals in it, the less you will feel yourself and your native language and belief system superior to others—in today’s dark skies.”—Nancy Mattina, author of Uncommon Anthropologist: Gladys Reichard and Western Native American Culture

“The biography of Franz Boas is a very important subject, especially to those interested in the history of anthropology, and I expect this volume, along with the first, will become a standard historical resource in coming years. This book makes an important contribution as an account of Boas’s career emphasizing his ongoing struggles at Columbia. This makes for a poignant narrative and a striking contrast with his growing fame and subsequent reputation.”—Grant Arndt, author of Ho-Chunk Powwows and the Politics of Tradition

Table of Contents

List of Illustrations
Series Editors’ Introduction
Note on Translations
1. Building the Department of Anthropology at Columbia University
2. Franz Boas and His Early Students, 1901–1915
3. Race and the Quest for Social Justice
4. Folklore and Ruins in Mexico and Puerto Rico
5. Conflict, War, and Censure
6. Preponderance of Women Students
7. Loss and Loneliness
8. The Last Cohort of Boas’s Students
9. Rescuing Scientists
10. After Retirement
Appendix: Tribal and Historical Designations

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