Franz Boas PapersWestern Social Science

Volumes in Print and in Progress

Available in Print and Electronic Editions:

The first volume of the Franz Boas Papers: Documentary Edition, entitled Franz Boas as Public Intellectual:Theory, Ethnography and Activism edited by Regna Darnell, Michelle Hamilton, Robert L. A. Hancock and Joshua Smith was published by the University of Nebraska Press in 2015. Based on papers given at a 2010 SSHRC-sponsored conference on Boas, this initial volume provides valuable historic and intellectual contextualization for the series.   The electronic edition (in pdf form) is published online via Project Muse

Franz Boas Documentary Edition Volume One

Works In Progress:

The Mind of Primitive Man; ed. Regna Darnell and M. Sam Cronk
The Centennial of The Mind of Primitive Man occasioned considerable scholarship revisiting the relationship of Boas’ biological and cultural thinking.  In the 1911 edition, Boas compiled papers published over the previous two decades and framed them alongside the critical social issue of “Race in America” as a self-conscious paradigm statement.  The 1938 edition introduced changes reflecting advances in science, a somewhat greater emphasis on language as a middle term between biology and culture, and a refocus toward Nazi Germany as the most urgent locus of racism.  The revision, however, maintained the basic methods and underlying principles of mind and body, culture and environment that integrated his thinking in 1911.

Indigenous Uses of the Boas Papers; ed. Susan Hill, Angie Bain, Rob Hancock, Ryan Nicolson, Deanna Nicolson
While the extensive ethnographic research undertaken by renowned anthropologist Franz Boas in Indigenous communities in British Columbia has been criticized by academics from a number of perspectives, the materials he collected have become important resources for Indigenous community­based researchers in a number of areas, including land claims, language revitalization, and the re­emergence of cultural practices affected by the impacts of colonialism. The papers in this session highlight the ways that Boas’ work is being used in Indigenous communities today. Taken together, these papers demonstrate the ongoing value of anthropological research for Indigenous communities while offering insights into the processes by which contemporary communities make sense of materials collected at other times for different purposes.This volume brings together community researchers (Bain, Nicolson, Nicolson), graduate students (Nicolson, Nicolson) and faculty members (Hancock, Hill).

Ethnology Under Glass: Franz Boas, Museology, and the Politics of Display; ed. Michelle Hamilton, Evan Habkirk, M. Sam Cronk
During his career in North America, Boas worked at key museums such as the Smithsonian Institution (Washington DC), the Field Museum (Chicago), and the American Museum of Natural History (New York City). Boas changed the standards of museum exhibition during the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.  He criticized the well-used evolutionary model which assumed development of each First Nations group to be similar and focused mainly on technology, and instead argued that each culture should be understood more holistically through a relativist approach, and as a product of their environment. This drew museums away from exhibits that compared, for example, many examples of tools to show evolutionary and functional changes, and towards culture groups expressed as dioramas of mannequins set in appropriate environmental backgrounds. He also advocated for this approach in live exhibitions, such as those he organized for the World’s Columbian Exhibition in Chicago in 1893 which featured Northwest Coast and Inuit individuals on display. In turn, his approach affected collections development policies; instead of storing similar objects together, museums turned towards cataloguing and interpreting objects within discrete culture groups. Boas’s former students who became employed at other museums modelled their work after his at such institutions as the Canadian Museum of History (Ottawa), thus extending his influence across North America. This volume draws upon the correspondence between Boas and AG Bell, George Laidlaw, James Mooney, Morris Jessup and other collections held at the American Museum of Natural History, the Canadian Museum of History, and potentially the Field Museum in Chicago which holds material related to the 1893 Columbian Exhibition. 

The Road to Plasticity, ed. Regna Darnell, Alexis Dolphin, Gregory Smithers
Referred to as "The Father of American Anthropology", Franz Boas is often viewed as the quintessential Anthropologist.  His commitment to holism, his meticulous and voluminous collections of anthropometric data, and his arguments against the concept of stable human types', or races, have made him a particularly salient figure for biological anthropologists working toward a biocultural understanding of human experience. Boas’ initial reputation in anthropology was as a physical anthropologist who applied anthropometric methods to the study of Native Americans, exemplified by his contributions at the Chicago World’s Columbian Expedition of 1893.  At Clark University thereafter, he developed an ambitious programs of cross-cultural measurement including Worcester MA schoolchildren and, under the auspices of the 1910 U. S. Census (Dillingham) Commission, Italian, Polish and “Hebrew” samples.  The Commission hoped for results that would buttress an immigration policy palatable to eugenics advocates.  Nonetheless, his demonstration that immigrant head-form could change in a single generation established the concept of plasticity and undermined the concept of stable and discrete races.  Boas' correspondence reveals how he worked consistently throughout his career to connect his scientific findings to pressing public concerns, while navigating his socio-political location as a Jewish foreigner.  ONe hundred years later, new insights into Boas' anthropology can provide models for how we, as 21st century biological anthropologists, may consider our work through a more holistic and politicallly-attuned lens. This volume should be read in conjunction with the FBP annotated edition of the 1911 and 1938 versions of Boas’ theoretical manifesto The Mind of Primitive Man.

Culture and Personality; ed. Regna Darnell
For Boas, the problems of anthropology were historical and psychological.  During his early career he focused on the historical but around 1910, along with former students Edward Sapir, Margaret Mead and Ruth Benedict, he turned toward psychology, by which he meant the role of the individual in society. This position mitigates the culturalist determinism later attributed to Boas by some.  Under G. Stanley Hall at Clark University he spoke on the same program as Freud in 1909 and his work articulated with the professionalization of psychology and psychiatry.  Limited scholarly attention has been paid to Boas’ role in this emerging area but the correspondence clarifies his engagement with its underlying problematics as well as his discomfort with some of the directions that his former students moved.  In the same years, Boas was emerging as a public intellectual calling informed citizens to shape the world around them according to social science principles.

Environmental Volume (working title); ed. Sarah Moritz, Jarrad Reddekop, Rob Wishart, Regna Darnell
Franz Boas's evolving relationship to the environment forms a central pillar in his work, including the notions of the Umwelt and human-animal relations. The role and relevance of the environment within the Boasian theoretical canon, and the degree to which it shifted over time, has been a point of interest for scholars trying to map the development of both his work and his emergence as an anthropologist. Precisely what Boas understood by 'the environment', how its study fit into his anthropological program, and how Boas (and others around him) thought the environment shaped the development of culture and vice versa, are questions of obvious consequence on both these fronts. A growing contemporary interest in varieties of domestication and the conceptual framework of the Anthropocene have many re-examining the thoughts of our anthropological ancestors. This volume will make previously unpublished materials, many of them translated from the original German, available to provide additional context and detail on these points to reconsider conventional interpretations in a fresh light and allow new ones to emerge.
This volume will feature materials that span Boas's career (1880s-1942). His early correspondences with colleagues and mentors in the German university and museum communities will provide context for how Boas understood questions about the environment going into his celebrated Baffinland expedition. In particular, materials will be selected that clarify how Boas understood the environment relative to the paradigms of psychophysics, Völkerpsychologie (folk psychology), geography and perception.
Although Boas's life and thought (and connections traceable within these) will be the thematic center of the volume, anthropological and other concerns with the environment have of course developed in new directions since Boas's time. Such matters are also of concern especially for descendant Indigenous communities on whose lives and lands Boas's work impinged. Accordingly, this volume will emphasize environment-related materials that promise to be of interest and use to contemporary readerships for reasons that may go beyond an interest in Boas himself.

From a Close Cooperation in the 1900s to Its Decline in the late 1930s: Boas' Russian Correspondence; ed. Sergei Kan  
Boas' best-known intellectual engagement with several key Russian anthropologists occurred in the late 1890s-early 1900s in the context of the Jesup North Pacific Expedition. However, this was only the beginning of his close collegiate and personal relationship with Vladimir Jochelson, Lev Shternberg and especially Vladimir Bogoraz, which lasted throughout their entire lives.  Strengthened by first-hand encounters in New York and at several meetings of the International Congress of Americanists in Europe, and maintained by means of regular correspondence, these relationships exposed Boas not only to Russian (and later Soviet) anthropology but Russian politics as well. Unlike all of his other major colleagues, the "three Russians" had become ethnographers while spending time in Siberia as political exiles. Even in their more mature years, they (particularly Bogoraz) continued to take part in various political activities, legal as well as clandestine.  Boas' correspondence with this "troika" sheds light on a tension between his dedication to dispassionate scholarship and his liberal/left wing politics.  In addition it reveals his support for the Russian Revolutions of 1905 and February 1917 as well as his ambivalent attitude towards the Bolshevik coup of October 1917 and the new Soviet regime. The 1920s-1930s correspondence is also a testament to Boas' efforts to help his old colleagues during the difficult years of the Civil War as well as his activities aimed at establishing scholarly ties and student exchange between the USSR and the USA.  Particularly important is Boas' entire correspondence with his only Soviet student and field research companion, Yulia Averkieva, which reflects his affection for the young ethnographer as well as his mixed feelings about the rise of Stalinism in the 1930s, which she was a staunch supporter of. Finally Boas' rarely poorly known 1930s-early 1940s correspondence with Soviet officials as well as pro- and anti-Soviet American intellectuals (including Communist Party USA leaders, John Dewey, and several others) reflects his occasional private protests against the Soviet regime's persecution of politicians and scholars combined with a reluctance to openly criticize the USSR as well as a willingness to side with the American Communists on the issue of the country's entry in World War II.

Sovereign Anthropologies: Indian Law and Indian Policy in the Interwar Years; ed. Joshua Smith, Dave Posthumus
This forthcoming edition of the Franz Boas Papers is directed towards examining the relationships between Americanist Anthropology, Indigenous activism, and ‘Indian’ policy in North America.  This research is divided into three separate foci. The first consists of the personal politics and professional relationships between key personalities. All of whom are tethered together through the divergent interests and ambitions of anthropologist Franz Boas. John Collier and Felix Cohen, are in their own ways, responsible for the progressive character of Indian policy and legal reforms in the 1930s.  Collier is often singularly credited with drafting and championing the Indian Reorganization Act (IRA) of 1934, while Felix Cohen, together with his spouse/partner Lucy Kramer Cohen, an anthropologist trained by Franz Boas, remain less well known architects of the IRA. Indeed, Cohen's work on Indian Self-Determination and Sovereignty are nothing less than canonical to American legal philosophy. On the subject of American Indian rights, Collier was simultaneously influenced and antagonized by Boas who opposed his campaign to be appointed by then President Roosevelt to the Office of Indian Commission.  Yet, Boas and Collier remained connected to each other through their overlapping, but divergent ideologies, activisms and notable professional contacts such as Roger Baldwin, founder of the American Civil Liberties Association. Furthermore, Collier employed several of Boas' students and opened the doors of applied anthropology by establishing the Applied Anthropology Unit in order to assess American Indian tribes abilities to "develop self-governance organizations in response to the Indian Reorganization Act ".  Felix Cohen, hired by Collier and assigned to the Department of Justice where his work in the 1930s for the Department of Justice is the foundation of what became the field of Indian Law in the United States; Lucy's contributions to this work remain grossly invisible.

The second focus is two enigmatic Native American anthropologists trained by Boas. Archie Phinney (Nimíipuu) and Ella Deloria (Yankton Dakota). As an anthropologist, Phinney studied the problems of the administration of 'Indians' and 'Minorities' in both the United States and in Russia. He eventually worked for the Bureau of Indian Affairs and wrote numerous essays, reports that remain unpublished; he was one of the four original founders of the National Congress of American Indians in 1944. To be sure, his activism and positions on U.S. Indian policy remain relevant to understanding contemporary Native American politics and activism today. Moreover, Boas supported the political views of Phinney to the Roosevelt administration and assisted him in pursuing a position with Collier's Administration. Deloria worked for the BIA on a socioeconomic study of the Navajo Reservation for the Bureau of Indian Affairs; she was a linguist, ethnographer, novelist and educator. Together the works of Phinney and Deloria comprise spaces of remarkable Indigenous Anthropologies, Political Philosophies and activisms that remain under-studied in relation to Anthropological research and U.S. Indian Policy of the Inter-war period.  Most importantly, both Phinney's dissertations were monographs on Indigenous Languages and each provided canonical bases of immense political importance that continue to be cited today.

The third, tying all three together, is the ideological approaches of these eclectic individuals, all of whom have left behind rich archives, personal papers and unpublished monographs ready for a long overdue in-depth cross-examination.  These require urgent contextualization within the shifts of U.S. Indian Policy following the World War I and, significantly the Paris Peace Conference (1919) such as Lewis Merriam's The Problem of Indian Administration, which is also known as the The Merriam Report (1928). The report was the first major study of Native American living conditions since 1850 that radically changed the direction of U.S. Indian Policy. In turn, this helped make way for progressive reformer John Collier and the eventual passing of the aforementioned IRA. Collier's approach to reforms stems from his penchant and belief in cultural pluralism. Heavily influenced by Boas' ideas, Collier strived to incorporate anthropology and Indigenous governance in his somewhat utopic vision for a pluralistic America.  Likewise, Felix Cohen's approach to trying to commensurate Indigenous Legal Orders with U.S. law and the American constitution led him to embrace legal pluralism; yet, his partner Lucy Kramer Cohen, the Boasian anthropologist also influenced Cohen's thinking on the matters of Indigenous Sovereignty and Law. Notably, these two women, Lucy Cohen and Ella Deloria are nearly invisible in the historiography of this period; our research strives to correct this lacuna.  Archie Phinney's and Ella Deloria's approaches to Indigenous Language and Story Telling as a form of living in political community comprise, in different ways, expressions of Indigenous resistances articulated as assertions of cultural persistence. Their situated relational politics and individual voices of Indigenous, but often 'anthropological' critiques and concerns are hypothesized here as integral to understanding Settler Colonialism in Inter-war America.  Specifically then, the objective of our volume is to comparatively determine, assess and articulate, Archie Phinney's and Ella Deloria's political locations vis-à-vis Boas', Colliers' and Cohen's numerous discussions and debates over the correlating trajectory of Indian Policy with the emergence of Indian Law as a field.