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Franz Boas: Report on the Academic Teaching of Anthropology

Columbia University
in the City of New York
DEPARTMENT OF ANTHROPOLOGY
Bolton Landing, Warren Co., N.Y.,
September 14, 1917.
Professor A.L. Kroeber,
Affiliated Colleges,
San Francisco, Cal.

My dear Professor Kroeber,-

I did not write out the Report of our meetings relating to anthropology teaching last winter, because the time did not seem propitious on account of the political events that were happening. While it is no better now, I presume I ought not to delay any longer in formulating our Report, even if we should decide to publish it later.

So far as I can see there was little discussion in regard to questions relating the the professional study of anthropology and the need for equipment. There were differences of opinion relating particularly to the introductory work and to the position of anthropology in the college course. I enclose a draft in which I have tried to harmonize the opinions expressed by the participants in our Conference. I should be much obliged to you if you would kindly read over this draft and let me know your criticisms and suggestions for changes. I am sending this draft to Progessors Kroeber, Dixon, Tozzer, and to Dr. Goddard.

With kindest regards,
Yours very sincerely,
Franz Boas.

REPORT ON THE ACADEMIC TEACHING OF ANTHROPOLOGY

In May 1916 the undersigned met at Columbia University in the City of New York to discuss the objects and methods of anthropology teaching in colleges and universities. At the end of the Conference, the participants undertook to write out their opinions in regard to special topics. These reports were circulated among the members of the Conference, and among a few other anthropologists who had been unable to be present. In December 1916, during the meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science in New York, the Conference met again at the American Museum of Natural History, and the discussion was continued on the basis of the previous Conference and of the Reports that had been circulated.

As a result of these Conferences the following Report has been drawn up:

I. The Science of Anthropology

The scientific aim of anthropology is the reconstruction of the history of mankind as a whole. This aim is pursued along

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biological, geological, archaeological, linguistic, and cultural lines, and according to historical methods in the narrower sense of the term.

The methods of anthropology are founded on an objective consideration of the life and activities of civilized and of primitive man, both being discussed from the same fundamental point of view without regard to the fact that the life of civilized man is nearer to us than that of primitive man.

If this is borne in mind, the value to the college of anthropology becomes at once apparent, because it trains the mind to clear thinking in relation to the forms of our cultural life,--one of the great needs of those who take an active part in public activities. It broadens the outlook upon the phenomena of civilization, and increases the power of objective interpretation of our own cultural activities and attitudes.

Its value in the university to advanced students of any of the mental sciences,--of philosophy, history, psychology, law, religion, literature, and art,--is also apparent, because they

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find in it a fundamental viewpoint that is helpful in the interpretation of their special studies.

A distinctive objective attitude is fostered by the conception of our civilization as one of the many forms of human social life, and this can be brought home forcibly by a presentation of the general data of anthropology.

The history of modern science shows an increasing appreciation of this method of approach, although most of the attempts to utilize it for the solution of problems in other sciences appear inadequate to the trained anthropologist. Anthropology has a distinct task to perform in the broadening out of many of the older sciences through it s wider outlook upon human history and upon the range of forces that determine its course. It gives a concise answer to the problems of the relation between biological conditions and civilization, between environment and cultural development, between historical happenings of the remote past and modern achievement.

II. The Aim of Non-Professional Anthropological Instruction.

This view of anthropology determines the scope of introductory

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work. The college course must be a summary of the biological, environmental, psychological, and social forces that find expression in the life of man and of their interrelation; and in it must be reviewed the history of mankind as a whole.

On account of the stress that is laid upon European history in other departments, the review will treat with particular emphasis the rest of the world, and will endeavor to please the biological and cultural history of the European peoples in its proper place as part of a general history of mankind.

According to the character of instructor, student-body, and institution useful courses of this type are being given in various forms. Stress is either laid upon the genera forces that determine the course of human history, particularly upon the distinction between biological and social development and their interrelation and upon the psychological, environmental, or economic conditions under which certain types of development occur: or the data relating to the cultural forms that have developed in various parts of the world and their historical and psychological

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significance are treated in greater detail. The choice between these methods is often determined by the availability of material for instruction, and by the extent to which the control of the student's work is necessary. When the relation of the anthropological viewpoint to modern activities is emphasized, the initiative for intense study rests much more with the student than in those cases in which familiarity with foreign cultural types is aimed at.

In an introductory course as here outlined very little attention can and should be given to details of methods of research. Only the most general principles of procedure can be outlined. There is no room for detailed discussion of the manner of solving problems of surface geology, of biometry, of linguistics, or of the investigation of cultrual phenomena. Nevertheless it will be indispensable to describe the principles upon which the procedure rests.

As stated before the non-professional teaching of anthropology is of service not only to the college student who does not look

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forward to a non-professional career, but it is also of great value to students of sciences that deal with the mental life of man, while the biological side of anthropology has close associations with problems of social hygiene and of education. The student of any one of these sciences who wishes to profit from anthropological instruction will be able to draw upon a wider field of knowledge, and will approach the subject in a maturer spirit than the college student, so that the scope of an introductory college course will not suffice for these purposes.

Generally the student who does not specialize in any particular science, and who attends college in preparation for a non-professional calling, will according to our present general educational system require a considerable amount of direction and control in regard to the accumulation of the data that form the basis of an anthropological viewpoint, while the student who devotes himself to any particular science will obtain the best results by extending his readings and studies in anthropological fields related to his own field of ???, and may be relied upon to seek for

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the data that will be helpful to him.

Owing to these conditions a differentiation between introductory work for undergraduate and for graduate students will be desirable. It will be necessary wherever both classes are represented by large numbers.

The essential difference between the two courses will ordinarily lie in the restriction to the most salient points in the undergraduate course, which points should be selected according to the two principles,--the analysis of local cultural complexes and the comparative study of the distribution of single traits over all parts of the world. The course for advanced students will be more systematic; it will give fuller information in regard to sources, and be more critical in character.

In how far information regarding cultural types and methods of inquiry can be demonstrated depends upon the museum, library, and laboratory facilities that are at the disposal of the teacher. These will be discussed later.

The lines of approach to the study of the phenomena of human

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life that set off anthropology from other sciences make it highly desirable that its point of view should be brought home to undergraduate students by advanced work in the same manner as is done in other sciences. As in language and in science, the introductory courses are followed by some special courses treating of the more special fields of knowledge, and giving at the same time an appreciation of the spirit and methods of scientific approach of their subject matter and upon its relation to other sciences; so this specialization should be followed out in anthropology. At present this elaboration of an introductory course is carried out in a few institutions only partly by means of courses treating the anthropology of various cultural areas in some detail, and taking into consideration all the aspects of anthropological research for that area--partly by means of topical courses that treat with general biological questions and general problems of the development of civilization, without particular regard to local areas. No recommendations can be made in regard to selection of special topics. On account of the wide range of the subject matter of anthropology. The selection must be left to the individuality of the instructor and to the availability of material.

On account of the close association of anthropology with other sciences, its intimated relation to our views regarding social questions, and its broadening influence upon thought, and introductory ??? and advanced courses in anthropology should be included in the programme of studies of every college.

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