Segments in this Video

Introduction to Franz Boas (03:36)


A year of life among the Eskimos had a profound impact on the views of Franz Boas. He intended to map the Arctic coastline and study the culture. His work would eventually change the way people think of other cultures and their own.

Pioneering Study of Eskimo Culture (02:09)

Franz Boas was born in 1858 and at age 20 left home to study geography. It was during his year of compulsory military training in in 1881 that he decided to study the relation of the Eskimo to their environment.

Observations of Eskimo Life (03:13)

Franz Boas kept a diary of letters that provides insight into the ambitions, frustrations, hardships, and loneliness of exploration before the turn of the century. As a geographer he was intrigued by the natives detailed knowledge of the Arctic landscape.

Hunting as an Eskimo (03:37)

As a geographer Franz Boas had been taught to believe that the lives of people like the Eskimos was entirely determined by their environment. He learned this is not the case. Today these populations are known as the Inuit.

Environment Does not Determine Culture (02:55)

Franz Boas witnessed life amongst the Eskimo first hand. He saw how much they depended on their environment and how unyielding it could be. As he charted the coast he was impressed with their way of life.

Traditional Eskimo Life (02:28)

Today most Inuit live in towns, but one community, formed around a single family, has made the decision to live away from the largely white settlements. Franz Boas realized the relativity of culture during his time among the Eskimos.

World's Colombian Exposition 1893 (01:32)

In 1885 Boas returned to Germany where his liberal views and Jewish heritage counted against him. He was working at the Royal Ethnographic Museum of Berlin when he was struck by the imagination in the works of art. He left for America and married.

Preservation of Culture (03:19)

Boas became curator at the American Museum of Natural History. He built up the research program beginning with his study of Pacific Northwest tribes and the factors that influence culture.

Preservation of Indian Life (02:42)

The activities of traders, administrators, and missionaries changed native life forever. Boas saw his subject matter disappearing and set about trying to save as much of it as possible by collecting artifacts. In 1886 he got to know the Hunt family.

Cultural Artifacts in Context (02:44)

In 1901 Boas's experience in reorganizing the material objects of native life landed him a job as curator at the American Museum of Natural History. He would radically change the goal of museum displays. He also worked at Columbia University.

Photographer of American Indians (01:32)

The ancient and elaborate cultural life of peoples like the Kwakiutl was recorded in minute detail by Franz Boas. A visual record by Edward Curtis shows some aspects of native life. He commissioned Indians to recreate tradition.

Native American Potlatch (02:29)

Ceremonial objects have great value for collectors of native art. Anthropologists are puzzled by the economic system of the Kwakiutl Indians which included trading items such as copper and blankets.

Traditional Way of Life (02:54)

Franz Boas used film to create his anthropological record. He wanted to record the attitudes postures and movements that went with tasks and skills performed by Kwakiutl. Village Island is now deserted.

Symbol of Status and Identity (03:13)

A Kwakiutl totem pole on Village Island is the ultimate proclamation of Indian identity. Each carved animal comes from a fable to which the family could lay claim. The culture is not dead thanks in part to people like the Hunts and Franz Boas.

Transmission of Cultural Identity (03:25)

The work of Franz Boas can provide a great deal of information, but many cultural traditions have been handed down from one generation to the next. During his visits to Fort Rupert Boas became aware of the importance of language.

Ellis Island (02:05)

Students were encouraged to see their own society in the context of a wider range of social worlds. The swarms of immigrants arriving in the U.S. in the early 1900s were the perfect subject for the biological aspect of Boas's studies.

Racial Inferiority (01:45)

Franz Boas was working for the U.S. Immigration Commission to determine whether people from certain countries in Europe should be allowed into the U.S. His findings were an important development in the eugenics argument.

New Views on Race (02:17)

Franz Boas campaigned on behalf of black people all over America. His findings from work at Ellis Island challenged the idea that certain racial characteristics were fixed or stable. He took a deliberate and bold social stance.

Father of American Anthropology (03:42)

Boas's work on the physical characteristics of humans convinced him that the concept of race was of no scientific use and that and biological differences among humans were insignificant. He taught at Columbia University for 50 years.

Credits: Franz Boas: The Shackles of Tradition (01:12)

Credits: Franz Boas: The Shackles of Tradition

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Franz Boas: The Shackles of Tradition

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Franz Boas was the first distinguished social scientist in the United States to challenge the prevailing concept of racial inferiority. He actively campaigned on behalf of black people in America in the early part of the 20th century. Considered the founding father of American anthropology, Boas taught at Columbia University for fifty years, encouraging his students to follow his example by actually working in the field. Among those who did so was Margaret Mead. (52 minutes)

Length: 53 minutes

Item#: BVL2542

ISBN: 978-1-4213-9363-6

Copyright date: ©1985

Closed Captioned

Reviews & Awards

"This is a well-crafted video that can effectively contribute to college courses in history, sociology, and cultural anthropology."—Choice

"The video would make an excellent contribution to beginning anthropology and humanities courses."—Science Books & Films

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