Heredity, Environment, and Cranial Form: A Reanalysis of Boas's Immigrant Data



Franz Boas's classic study, Changes in Bodily Form of Descendants of Immigrants, is a landmark in the history of anthropology. More than any single study, it undermined racial typology in physical anthropology and helped turn the tide against early-20thcentury scientific racism. In 1928, Boas responded to critics of the immigrant study by publishing the raw data set as Materials for the Study of Inheritance in Man. Here we present a reanalysis of that long-neglected data set. Using methods that were unavailable to Boas, we test his main conclusion that cranial form changed in response to environmental influences within a single generation of European immigrants to the United States. In general, we conclude that Boas got it right. However, we demonstrate that modern analytical methods provide stronger support for Boas's conclusion than did the tools at his disposal. We suggest future areas of research for this historically important data set. [Keywords: Franz Boas, cranial form, immigrant study, heredity, environment]