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American Anthropologist

The Passion of Franz Boas



The reputation of Franz Boas as a scientist declined in the decades after his death in 1942, but his reputation as a champion of human rights and an opponent of racism remained intact. More recently, however, some writers have questioned the sincerity, the results, and the political implications of his anthropology and his work against racism and ethnocentrism. Others have been critical of his relations with colleagues and students such as Ella Deloria and Zora Neale Hurston. In this essay I discuss some of these claims and present a more positive view. Franz Boas was passionately and consistently concerned about human rights and individual liberty, freedom of inquiry and speech, equality of opportunity, and the defeat of prejudice and chauvinism. He struggled for a lifetime to advance a science that would serve humanity, and he was as much of a humanitarian in private as he was in public. [Boas, political struggles, human relations]

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