RecensionsBook Reviews

BOAS, Norman F., 2004 Franz Boas 1858-1942. An Illustrated Biography, Mystic, Connecticut, Seaport Autographs Press, 292 pages.

  • Ludger Müller-Wille

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Corps de l’article

This book is the first complete biography of Franz Boas written by his grandson, Norman F. Boas. The author states clearly that he intended to write an illustrated biography with a personal viewpoint expressed by Franz Boas’ descendents. He does not aim at a critical scientific analysis of Boas’ achievements. Still, Norman Boas presents succinctly Boas' scientific accomplishments and academic career and compliments his writings with much engaged personal insight into Franz Boas' personality as experienced by the extended Boas-Krackowizer family. The book is illustrated with a large number of private photos of Franz Boas, his family, and his research sites in the Canadian Arctic and British Columbia; some of these photos have never been published before.

Particular attention is given to Boas' experiences while staying among the Inuit of southern Baffin Island in the 1880s and how he conveyed his views of Inuit and the Arctic to his children and grandchildren. This section is of particular interest to arctic social scientists. The chapters are organized chronologically focussing in Boas’ personal and academic career, immigration to the USA, personal ordeals, political activism, and legacy. These chapters are based on original archival materials housed with the American Philosophical Society in Philadelphia, PA, but also draw from documents in private collection of Boas family members.

The Epilogue includes the description of the encounter, in the 1980s, between members of the Boas family and the Kwakwa'wakw in Alert Bay, British Columbia, with whom Boas worked between the 1880s and 1930s and in particular with one of their members, George Hunt. This moving story shows the closing of a circle that begun with Boas and ended in mediation and conciliation, when materials entailing knowledge where returned by the Boas family—an extraordinary event.

This timely book adds to the wealth of literature on Franz Boas who has kept many cultural anthropologists occupied to ponder about his work and approach to study the difference in human expressions. Norman F. Boas is to be congratulated for his persistence and energy to complete and publish this biography.