Franz Boas

Franz Boaz: The Father of American Anthropology

“Never underestimate the ability of a small group of committed individuals to change the world”- Margaret Mead. Throughout history, there have been great figures that pose as role models to society.

From Einstein to Mother Theresa, they all share one common trait which is persistence. In this article, we learn of a remarkable figure named Franz Boaz “The Father of American Anthropology “. Followed by seeing how his hard work becomes celebrated and pose a large influence for many.

Humble Beginning’s

Franz Boas Homeland of Germany
A glimpse of “The Father of Anthropology” personal background and homeland.  Image Source: (

Born in 1858 Minden (Westphalia), Germany, Franz Boaz life begins. Although he is German-born and raised, his family is of Jewish descent.

Aside from this, he and his family identified themselves with emulating liberal ideologies and individualism. Young Franz became interested in appreciating the crucial knowledge of books.

As he progresses throughout his school years, he also gains interest in subjects like natural sciences and culture. These topics are carried forward as he enters his further studies in the Universities of Heidelberg, Bonn, and Kiel. From there he earns a PH. D. in Physics.

Franz proved himself as worthy of completing his studies. From then on, he vowed to pursue greater endeavors regarding his passion for culture. In turn, this marked the beginning of something great for the Father of American Anthropology.

Anthropology seeds become planted

Illustration of Baffin Island in Franz Boas Expedition
Interesting illustration of Anthropology as Franz Boas ventures in Baffin Island. Image Source: (

In the year 1883, Boas begins his first breakthrough field research in Baffin Island (Northern Coast of Canada). After serving the military for a year in his homeland, he gains the chance to take the trip to Canada.

This is an exciting feat for Franz to follow because he learns of the Inuit people’s culture and their society. One important discovery he made after spending time with the native inhabitants of the area was there is common ground.

Meaning that “All societies were fundamentally equal” rather than the dominant belief that anyone outside of Europe was lesser. This was a key factor for Franz because this served as the main purpose for him to shift his career path.

Suddenly studying people and culture fascinated Franz more than his original purpose of the natural environments of the world. In summary, Franz Boas’s interest in Anthropology blossomed.

More Breakthrough Discoveries from Baffin Island

Besides Franz Boas gaining the chance to study the Inuit peoples and opening his eyes to other cultures, he matures. In the era that Franz lived in, the ideology of race was rather partial.

This was especially surprising for Franz to witness it proved wrong in his studies. For example, he concluded that “Human beings simply need to be understood in their cultural context”.

Although we speak different tongues, vary in skin hue, and emulate unique customs, we all share capability and heart. After his time spent on the island, Franz got the chance to participate and work in the Chicago World’s Fair.

Taking place in 1893, the theme highlighted the four hundredth anniversary of Christopher Columbus’s arrival to the Americas. This became another breakthrough for him because he and his crew created Anthropology exhibitions of the Native Americans. Moreover, that proved successful in showing audiences the most realistic depictions of what life was like then. It became widely celebrated.

The Exposition

Native American exhibition
Well structured exhibit of Native American tribe life. The heart and purpose of Anthropology. Image Source: (

After these exciting events occurred, Franz Boas got the chance to travel back north to British Columbia. His original purpose is to gather material related to the indigenous cultures for his research.

Here he created a replica village exhibition for visitors to educate themselves more on the local culture of indigenous people. Furthermore, he invites members of the Kwakwaka’wakw tribe to reside in the village replication.

The purpose of this request was to show an intimate example of the tribe’s life and ways for newcomers. It became a little difficult at first as there came sacrifices and parts to contribute.

Plus, some visitors not being open to learning provided much frustration. All in all, this act became recognized because of his constant effort to educate others.

Settling in America

Museum of Natural History in New York.
Museum of Natural History in New York. Where Franz Boas manifested Anthropology as a whole. Image Source: (

After working and providing materials that would become used for the foundation of the Chicago Field Museum, Boas relocates. He settles in New York and gets the position of Assistant Curator at the American Museum of Natural History.

One unique perspective he applies to his work at the museum is presenting shipped cultural artifacts in their original state. Rather than recreate them in a manner that washes away their former glory, he promotes their originality!

Franz Boas’s work in anthropology did not go unnoticed as he became a leading figure for research and development. Followed by igniting the launch of the Museum’s Northwest Coast Hall in 1890.

This institution highlights exhibitions on the life and cultures of Indigenous peoples in North America. Franz Boas continued to work at the museum for fifteen years until his ambitions turned towards education. On balance, his discoveries of Anthropology flourished into other aspects of the discipline.

Further Projects and Challenges

During Franz Boas’s time working for the American Museum of Natural History, he organized another expedition in British Columbia. This focused on creating exhibitions that reflected the natural habitat of the indigenous people in the region.

As innovative it became for him to pursue in getting another chance to practice his beliefs, it caused him trouble. Rather than following the original objective of placing all tribes in one sole exhibition, he separated each.

Furthermore, he respected their unique ways and tongues and strived to create a separate set of individual exhibits. One of the main things about Franz Boas was that he believes in pursuing individualism and truth.

His work’s approach of grouping diverse indigenous groups together without proper representation is what pushed him to perform his actions.

Part of his core motivation concerning anthropology is that all people share the same capabilities. Also, that everyone deserves to be represented correctly.

Birth of Anthropology in America

Columbia University
Columbia University, the birthplace of Anthropology in America. Image Source: (

In the year 1899, Franz Boas became the first-ever professor of Anthropology at Columbia University. He provided steady and stimulating lectures to many inquiring students of this new subject.

Along with this information, he also played in establishing the department. This also turned into the initial P.H. D. program of study in America.

For this reason, Franz Boas is considered “The Father of Anthropology” because he taught the first generation of American scholars. Although the field is new and there was much to learn and unfold, this became another breakthrough. Franz Boas’s life and career was skyrocketing and gaining steady ground!

Some famous students of his consisted of fellow anthropologist Margaret Mead, Ruth Benedict, and writer Zora Neale Hurston. With Franz’s ambitious actions becoming implanted into inquiring minds, his students establish Anthropology departments across the country.

From California, Chicago, Washington, Florida, and so forth, the subject of Anthropology becomes recognized and celebrated by many.

Anthropology Ideas and Theories foundation

 Cultural Relativism illustration
Perfectly illustrated objective of Cultural Relativism. A real fundamental aspect to Anthropology. Image Source: (

When it comes to Anthropology becoming a newly introduced subject in America, a set of ideas and theories develop. For example, Boas gets recognized for his concept of “Cultural Relativism”.

This emphasizes the idea that all cultures are equal but must be identified on their terms. One interesting illustration he demonstrates to others with his idea is by comparing an apple and an orange.

The fruits signified the physical differences but promoted awareness in terms of livelihood. For Franz Boas, no culture is greater than the other, they just simply vary.

Even though at his time human ethnicities became compared on a scale being greatest to least, he proved this wrong. It became a breakthrough for many as old partial beliefs came to a different light. As shown above, his work becomes revolutionary for his time.

Additional Ideas and Theories

Besides Franz Boas displaying memorable illustrations to his ideas and theories, there comes more background detail to his drive. As Anthropology became recognized as a discipline, Franz Boas also established the four-field approach.

Of course, Anthropology is known for the study of culture and experience and uniting various subtopics, but this further evolves. The four-field approach promotes complete understanding and enlightenment to what cultures are truly about.

From behaviors, history, materials, anatomy, population, customs, social organization, folklore, grammar, and language use, he strives for unveiling all layers. The idea is intriguing and exciting because it continues to be followed in modern American universities.

Plus, it advocates for the removal of the unfamiliarity of different cultures and civilizations.

An Anthropologist Achievements through time

Anthropology book “Race, Language, and Culture”.
Illustration of Franz Boas book “Race, Language, and Culture”. Considered one of the most crucial books to Anthropology. Image Source: (

Throughout Franz Boas’s later life and career, he earns many achievements that continue to be celebrated and admired. In addition, some breakthrough actions become responsible for the foundation of organizations like The International Journal of American Linguistics.

Some other institutions he aided in creating are the International School of American Archeology and Ethnology in Mexico. The next is becoming elected as the President of the New York Academy of Sciences.

Indeed, Franz Boas proved himself a worthy leader as “The Father of American Anthropology”. Some extra accomplishments he manifested was writing and publishing four books.

Some titles include “The Mind of the Primitive Man”, “Hand of The American Languages”, and “Anthropology and Modern Life”. The last edition is titled “Race Language and Culture” which is considered the most important writing piece written on Anthropology.

Altogether, he became an accomplished leader in Anthropology history.

Last Straw of a Leading Figure

 Franz Boas book after his death
Visualization of Franz Boas book created after his death. Another prized item in Anthropology. Image Source: (

On a cold winter day in 1942, Franz Boas suffers from a fatal heart attack at the Columbia University campus. His death became devastating for many because there was still so much to learn and expand regarding his capturing ideas and theories.

To illustrate, a collection of his essays, articles and personal lectures became edited and published into an additional book. The book titled “Race and Democratic Society” gained instant success as many of his followers became thirsty for his knowledge.

In addition, the literature piece gained the status of being the most prized works of Franz Boas. He lived to be eighty-four years old but provided a lifetime of seeds that play strong roles in modern society.

Although Franz Boas passed away, his spirit of persistence and overall influence continued to play significance for future generations.

Franz Boas Legacy

Portrait of Franz Boas
Portrait of Franz Boas “The Father of American Anthropology” in his prime. Image Source: (

With the emergence of Anthropology spreading and earning a place in universities, the teachings root back to Franz’s teachings. In addition, Franz Boas was also a leading figure in the establishment of the American Anthropological Association.

This organization stands as a stronghold for modern Anthropologists in America to reference on. With all this information at hand, it comes to prove that with dedication and perseverance, you can harvest greatness.

Franz Boas became an influential figure for many because he perfectly emulates these traits. It all starts with a desire, dream, and action.

When putting reality in motion, there comes a rewarding emergence of consequences. It is unique because all this would not be possible or existing if Franz Boas never changed his career path.

The first Canadian expedition taken by him was a catalyst to something great for the academic world. In essence, he earns prestige as a leader.

Bonus reputation created by Franz Boaz

To add, Franz Boas continues to have an enduring reputation and dominion in anthropology. Many anthropologists embrace Franz’s ideas and approaches to empiricism and cultural relativism.

Another factor is them following his example by field researchers applying themselves completely to the cultures they study. In a way, Franz Boas’s actions catalyze many actions that take place today concerning anthropology.

He is viewed as a positive example in history because he became a person who fought to combat prejudice. Franz emulated a character of being outspoken taking a stand to prove himself.

All things considered, Franz Boas serves as a good role model in terms of anthropology and moral character.

Significance of Franz Boas “The Father of American Anthropology”

Though provoking cave painting in Europe. Another wonderous anomaly to Anthropology and History
Thought provoking cave painting in Europe. Another wonderous anomaly to Anthropology and History. Image Source: (

From humble beginnings, fascination with culture, and a drive to educate a mass, Franz Boas becomes a leading figure. He will always be known in history for being the “The Father of American Anthropology” and providing his expertise.

In a world full of misconceptions concerning race, Franz defied all odds through his work. This is part of the main reasons why he becomes widely celebrated in modern-day America and globally.

Anthropology is a unique approach and discipline to follow because it clears oblivion away and promotes understanding. Followed by paving way for seeing other perspectives in a new light.

For this purpose, Franz’s ideas continue to play large and influential roles in modern society and strive to enlighten. His story will serve as inspiration for many generations to come.


Works Cited

Franz Boas, Father of American Anthropology (

Franz Boas – Wikipedia

Four-field approach – Wikipedia

Chapter 10. Language, Race and Culture. Edward Sapir. 1921. Language: An Introduction to the Study of Speech (

Franz Boas – Biography, Facts and Pictures (



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