The Boas Professional Papers contain a diverse assemblage of professional correspondence, family letters, and diaries, with a valuable series of essays and lectures by Boas on both professional and political topics (democracy, race, etc.). (NOTE: This collection is not to be confused with the much larger Franz Boas Papers collection (Mss.B.B61), which contains the vast majority of Boas's professional correspondence and was referred to as the "Professional Papers" in earlier decades.)
During the half century leading up to the Second World War, Franz Boas helped to define academic anthropology in the United States. Trained as a geographer at the University of Heidelberg, Boas worked initially on the Inuit of Baffin Island and subsequently on the cultures of the Indians of the Northwest Pacific Coast, becoming a leading figure in American anthropology by the first decade of the twentieth century. As Professor of Anthropology at Columbia University, Boas made significant theoretical contributions to ethnology, linguistics, and physical anthropology, helping to ingrain the four fields approach in his discipline and introducing the concept of cultural relativism into wide currency. He was, as well, a committed Socialist and an ardent opponent of both racism and fascism.