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The advent of Franz Boas on the North American scene irrevocably redirected the course of Americanist anthropology. This volume documents the revolutionary character of the theoretical and methodological standpoint introduced by Boas and his first generation of students, among whom linguist Edward Sapir was among the most distinguished. Virtually all of the classic Boasians were at least part-time linguists alongside their ethnological work. During the crucial transitional period beginning with the founding of the Bureau of American Ethnology in 1879, there were as many continuities as discontinuities between the work of Boas and that of John Wesley Powell and his Bureau. Boas shared with Powell a commitment to the study of aboriginal languages, to a symbolic definition of culture, to ethnography based on texts, to historical reconstruction on linguistic grounds, and to mapping the linguistic and cultural diversity of native North America. The obstacle to Boas’s vision of anthropology was not the Bureau but the archaeological and museum establishment centred in Washington, D.C. and in Boston. Moreover, the “scientific revolution” was concluded not when Boas began to teach at Columbia University in New York in 1897 but around 1920 when first generation Boasians cominated the discipline in institutional as well as theoretical terms. The impact of Boas is explored in terms of theoretical positions, interactional networks of scholars, and institutions within which anthropological work was carried out. The volume shows how collaboration of universities and museums gradually gave way to an academic centre for anthropology in North America, in line with the professionalization of American science along German lines during the late 19th and early 20th centuries.
The author is Professor of Anthropology and Director of the Centre for Research and Teaching of Canadian Native Languages at the University of Western Ontario, Canada. She is a fellow of the Royal Society of Canada.
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