Franz Boas Anthropometric Data and Early Field Notebooks


Date: Circa 1883-1912 | Size: 3.0 Linear feet


Anthropometric data from various Native American groups, language materials from the Northwest Coast and Mexico, typescripts of papers, a diary of a field trip to Baffin Island (N.W.T.), Canada, and genealogical data

Background note

Born in Minden, Germany, on July 8, 1858, the anthropologist Franz Boas was the son of the merchant Meier Boas and his wife, Sophie Meyer. Raised in the radical and tradition of German Judaism, Franz's youth was steeped in politically liberal beliefs and a largely secular outlook that he carried with him from university through his emigration to the United States.

At the universities of Heidelberg and Bonn, Boas studied physics and geography before completing a doctorate in physical geography at Kiel in 1881. Intending on testing then-current theories of environmental determinism, he signed on to an anthropological expedition to Baffin Island in 1883-1884, expecting that he would document the close adaptative fit of Central Eskimo cultures to their extreme climate. His experiences in the arctic, however, led him to the contrary conclusion: that social traditions, not environmental, exerted a dominant influence over human societies, and from this point onward, he was led to pursue the cultural over than physical dimensions of humanity.

Although he returned to Berlin after the expedition, Boas emigrated to the United States in 1885 to assume an editorial position with the journal Science, hoping to use it as a stepping-stone to an academic appointment. In 1886, he embarked upon a second major field excursion into what would become his most famous ethnographic project, working among the Kwakiutl (Kwakwaka'wakw) Indians of the Northwest Coast, after which he secured his first academic position in 1889, at Clark University in Worcester, Mass. After three years at Clark and a failed appointment at the Field Museum in Chicago in 1892 (during which he played a part in organizing the anthropological exhibits for the Columbian World's Fair), Boas moved to New York City.

The restless activity of Boas's early years slowed in New York. Hired by the American Museum of Natural History (1895-1905), which became the recipient of the amazingly rich anthropological collections he accumulated on the Northwest Coast, Boas began to teach classes at Columbia University in 1896, where three years later he was appointed Professor of Anthropology. For the next 37 years, Boas ruled the anthropological roost at Columbia, accruing unprecedented power in his discipline, wielding grants, recommendations, and appointments with remarkable dexterity, and collecting about him a remarkable group of younger scholars as students and colleagues.

Distancing himself from some of the main currents of contemporary anthropological thought in the United States, and particularly from the evolutionist assumptions that riddled the discipline, Boas championed an anthropology that viewed human cultures as shaped more by historical "tradition" than biological propensity. Claiming to resist any overarching, synthetic theories of human relations, and particularly evolutionary theories of sociocultural development, Boas laid the theoretical groundwork for what became modern cultural relativism. In the process, he helped to clarify the demarcation between the concepts of culture and race and its expression in the divergence of the four fields in anthropology -- linguistics, ethnography, physical anthropology, and archaeology.

Boas's relatively few forays into physical anthropology included a pioneering anthropometric study in 1910-1911, demonstrating that the alleged mental and physical inferiority of immigrants disappeared statistically by the second generation. Opposed to immigration quotas and disdainful of the claims to science used to justify them, Boas was a consistent, strident opponent of racial determinism in intellect or behavior. A committed, politically active Socialist, he was frequently an outspoken critic of American policy. During the First World War, he spoke out against the treatment of German Americans and "enemy aliens" -- to the point of putting himself at risk -- and the rise of the Nazi party in Germany proved an even greater crusade. Despite his age, Boas took an active role in the anti-fascist struggle in the United States and was involved with numerous committees to assist refugee scholars. He was equally ardent in his efforts to criticize racial and ethnic bigotry in the United States.

As a mentor, Boas had a reputation of being directive, at times overbearing, and at the same time of doing too little to prepare his students for the rigors of fieldwork. The extraordinary number of students coming out of Columbia under his care, however, has arguably done as much to extend the Boasian approach than Boas's own writing. Margaret Mead, Ruth Benedict, Elsie Clews Parsons, Alfred Kroeber, Frank Speck, Edward Sapir, Zora Neale Hurston, Ella Deloria, Melville Herskovits, Leslie Spier, Paul Radin, and Ashley Montagu are all students of Boas. Many continued in the same intellectual stream, some diverged, yet all bore traces of Boas's influence. He left a mark as well on the institutions of the discipline, as one of the founders of the American Anthropological Association and of the International Journal of American Linguistics.

Scope and content

Anthropometric data from various Native American groups, language materials from the Northwest Coast and Mexico, typescripts of papers, a diary of a field trip to Baffin Island (N.W.T.), Canada, and genealogical data.

The Series also includes a small number of essays by Boas, including his "Darwin in relation to anthropology."

Digital objects note

This collection contains digital materials that are available in the APS Digital Library. Links to these materials are provided with context in the inventory of this finding aid. A general listing of digital objects may also be found here.

Collection Information

Physical description

3.0 lin. feet

3.0 lin. feet


Gift of Northwestern University Library, 1979 (accession number 1979-1592ms).

Preferred citation

Cite as: Franz Boas field notebooks and anthropometric data, American Philosophical Society.

Related material

The American Council of Learned Societies Committee on Native American Languages, Franz Boas Collection of Materials for American Linguistics ( Mss 497.3.B63c) is a large collection of primary materials on Native American languages assembled, in part, under Boas's supervision, and including a large quantity of material written by Boas himself.

Boas appears as a correspondent in numerous APS collections, and in addition to its rich collections for the history of anthropology, the library houses the papers of several of Boas's former students and proteges, including Frank Speck ( Mss. Ms. Coll. 126), Elsie Clews Parsons ( Mss. Ms. Coll. 29), John Alden Mason ( Mss. B M384), Paul Radin ( Mss. 497.3 R114), and Ashley Montagu ( Mss. Ms. Coll. 109).

The APS also houses a microfilm (372.3, reel 1) of original materials in the Office of Anthropology Archives, Smithsonian Institution, Washington, D.C., relating to Boas's trips to Baffin Island (N.W.T.) and British Columbia, during which he studied and collected cultural materials, 1885-1909.

The papers of Boas's son Ernst Boas ( Mss. Ms. Coll. 10) are housed at the APS. A physician, Ernst Boas shared his father's liberal political outlook and activist social views.

Other Franz Boas Collections
Franz Boas Papers, 1862-1942 (Mss B B61)View Collection
Franz Boas Professional Papers, ca. 1860-1942 (Mss B B61p)View Collection
Boas Family Papers, 1862-1942 (Mss B B61f)View Collection
Boas-Rukeyser Collection, 1869-1940 (Mss B B61ru)View Collection
United States Federal Bureau of Investigation Files, 1939-1950 (Mss B B61f.1)View Collection


Rohner, Ronald P., ed., The Ethnography of Franz Boas: Letters and Diaries of Franz Boas, Written on the Northwest Coast from 1886 to 1931 (Chicago: Univ. of Chicago, 1969). Call no.: B B61e.r

Stocking, George, ed., The Shaping of American Anthropology, 1883-1911: A Franz Boas Reader (N.Y.: Basic Books, 1974). Call no.: 572.081 B63s

Cole, Douglas, Franz Boas: The Early Years, 1859-1906 (Seattle: Univ. of Washington, 1999).

Boas, Franz, The Mind of Primitive Man (N.Y.: MacMillan, 1911). Call no.: 572 B63m

Boas, Franz, Ethnology of the Kwakiutl (Washington, D.C.:Government Printing Office, 1921). Call no.: 572.97 B63e

Boas, Franz, Primitive Art (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard Univ. Press, 1927). Call no.: 571.7 B63p

Boas, Franz, ed., General Anthropology (Boston: D.C. Heath, 1938). Call no.: 572 B63g.r

Boas, Franz, Race, Language and Culture (N.Y.: MacMillan, 1940). Call no.: 572.081 B63r

Indexing Terms


  • Diaries.
  • Notebooks

Geographic Name(s)

  • Baffin Island (N.W.T.)

Personal Name(s)

  • Boas, Franz, 1858-1942
  • Darwin, Charles, 1809-1882


  • Anthropology -- Research -- United States
  • Anthropometry -- Research.
  • Chatino language
  • Indians of Mexico -- Languages
  • Indians of North America -- Anthropometry
  • Indians of North America -- Northwest Territories -- Languages
  • Pochutec language

Detailed Inventory

Anthropometric datasheets
  box 1-5

Restrictions on Access: Restrictions on Access: Reproduction of this series, including Reading Room photography, is restricted due to privacy concerns. Please consult the Manuscripts Department for more information.

Anadarko, Fort Sill, and Grantham Springs, Indian Territory (Oklahoma)
Circa 18923 foldersbox 1

Recorded at Anadarko, Fort Sill, and Grantham Springs, Indian Territory (Oklahoma). Data for Kiowa, Comanche, Apache, etc.

Cheyenne River Agency, South Dakota
Summer 1891 box 1

Recorded at Cheyenne River Agency, S.D. Data for Dakota, etc.

Crow Agency, North Dakota
Summer 18922 foldersbox 1

Recorded at Crow Agency, N.D. Data for Crow.

Kamloops, Lytton, and other locations in British Columbia; and, Spokane, Washington
Summer 18924 foldersbox 2

Recorded at Kamloops, Lytton, and other locations in British Columbia, Spokane, Washington. Data for Thompson, etc.

Kamloops School and other locations; British Columbia and Washington
Summer 18973 foldersbox 2

Recorded at Kamloops School and other locations, British Columbia and Washington. Data for Lillooet, Bella Bella, Salish, Thompson.

Lincoln College, Philadelphia
Summer 1892 box 3

Recorded at Lincoln College, Philadelphia. Data for Oglala, Cheyenne, Omaha, etc.

Omaha Government School, Nebraska
Circa 1891-1892 box 3

Recorded at Omaha Government School, Nebraska. Data for Omaha.

Summer 18926 foldersbox 3-4

Recorded at various locations in Ontario. Data for Mississagua, Chippewa, Oneida, Munsee, Ottawa, etc.

Santee, Yankton, etc.
Summer 1892 box 4

Data for Santee, Yankton, and Teton

Saskatchewan and Manitoba
Summer 18913 foldersbox 4

Recorded at various locations in Saskatchewan and Manitoba. Data for Ojibwe, Cree, Saulteaux, etc.

Stonewall and Tishimingo, Indian Territory (Oklahoma)
Summer 18912 foldersbox 4

Recorded at Stonewall and Tishimingo, Indian Territory (Oklahoma). Data for Chickasaw.

Tahlequah, Oklahoma, and other locations
Summer 18922 foldersbox 5

Recorded at Tahlequah, Oklahoma, and other locations. Data for Cherokee.

White Earth Agency, Leech Lake, and Pine Point, Minnesota
Summer 18922 foldersbox 5

Recorded at White Earth Agency, Leech lake, and Pine Point, Minn. Data for Chippewa, etc.

Winnebago Reservation, Minnesota
Summer 1892 box 5

Recorded at Winnebago Reservation, Minn. Data for Winnebago.

Boas, Franz, 1858-1942.
Miscellaneous notes
 3.0 linear feetbox 1-6
Boas, Franz, 1858-1942.
Inuit word lists and proper names
Circa 1882-18831 folderbox 5
Boas, Franz, 1858-1942.
Relation of Darwin to Anthropology
n.d.1 folderbox 5


General physical description: 1 folder

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Boas, Franz, 1858-1942.
Science in Nazi Germany
1936 box 5


Boas, Franz, 1858-1942.
Spanish Elements in Modern Nahuatl
After 1925, undated1 folderbox 5

Folder includes disparate linguistic materials from the Northwest Coast, including for Coastal Salish (re: a religious prophet), Puyallup, Tsimshian.

General physical description: 1 folder

Boas, Franz, 1858-1942.
Theory of Correlations
n.d.1 folderbox 5


General physical description: 1 folder

Boas, Franz, 1858-1942.
Was sind Rassen? 5

TMs. In German.

General physical description: 6p.

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n.d.1 folder (OS)box 5

Includes Boas Family genealogical information (1920s?), forms for anthropometric surveys, stereograph of cranium of male Aleut; two silver prints of Amazonian Indians, etc.

General physical description: 1 folder (OS)

  box 6

Related material: Other Boas field notebooks and related materials from his 1883-1884 Baffinland trip can be found in the Franz Boas Professional Papers (Mss.B.B61p).

Baffinland diary
1883 July 16-1884 JanuaryBlack cloth bindingbox 6


General physical description: Black cloth binding

Baffinland notebook
1883-1884Black cloth bindingbox 6


General physical description: Black cloth binding

Items removed from Baffinland Notebook
1883-1884 box 5
Field notes 1886 #1
1886 September 18-October 3Brown 6

This is the first of four field notebooks Boas used on his first trip to British Columbia in 1886. This notebook covers September 18 to October 3, 1886. Includes vocabularies, texts, notes in German shorthand, and some sketches, relating to Kwakwa̱ka̱'wakw (Kwagu'ł, ʼNa̱mǥis, Tłatła̱siḵwa̱la), Tsimshian, Bella Coola (Nuxalk), Oowekeeno (Wuikinuxv, "Wikano"), Tlingit, and Bella Bella (Heiltsuk) peoples. Recorded in part at Victoria, Nahwitti ("Newettee," Xwa̱mdasbeʼ), and elsewhere on Vancouver Island. This notebook contains Boas's very first notes on visiting Kwakwa̱ka̱'wakw communities.

General physical description: Brown lea.

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Field notes 1886 #2
1886 6
Use Reader Copy, Box 5

Includes vocabularies, texts, shorthand notes for Comox (Coast Salish), Lequiltoq (Lekwiltok), Sisia'atl (Shishalh, Sechelt).

General physical description: Disbound.

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Field notes 1886 #2. Reader Copy
1886 November box 5
Field notes 1886 #3
1886 October 26-NovemberDisboundbox 6

Includes vocabularies, texts, shorthand notes for Bella Coola (Nuxalk), Tlingit, Cowichan, Nitinat (Ditidaht), Comox, Pentlatch (Coast Salish), Lequiltoq (Lekwiltok), Sisia'atl (Shishalh, Sechelt), and Tsimshian. native American Images note; Sketches

General physical description: Disbound

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Field notes 1886 #4
1886 November-December 16Black paperbox 6

Includes vocabularies, texts, shorthand notes for Coast Salish peoples, including Pentlatch, Comox, Eeqswem, Nanaimo (Snuneymuxw), and Squamish (Skwxwú7mesh). Native American Images note: Sketches

General physical description: Black paper

Field notes 1888 #1
1888 May 31-JuneBlack cloth bindingbox 6

Includes vocabularies, texts, shorthand notes for Squamish (Skwxwú7mesh), Tsimshian, Nisgah (Nisga'a), Haida, Coast Salish anthropometric measurements, Stikine Tlingit (Shtaxʼhéen Ḵwáan, previously misidentified as Tahltan), Kwak'wala (Kwakwaka'wakw), Tlingit, Heiltsuk. Native American Images note: Sketches

General physical description: Black cloth binding

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Field notes 1888 #2
1888 June-July 24Black cloth bindingbox 6

Includes vocabularies, texts, shorthand notes for Heiltsuk, Tlingit, Haida, Cowichan (Coast Salish), "Aht," Nootka (Nuu-chah-nulth), Ntlakapamuk (Nlaka'pamux), Kootenai (Kutenai, Ktunaxa). Native American Images note: Sketches.

General physical description: Black cloth binding

Field notes 1889 #1
1889 July 24Black cloth binding, 6

Part of BAAS survey, including linguistic data on Songish (Songhees, Lekwungen, Lkwungen), Alberni (Nuu-chah-nulth, Hupacasath, Tseshaht), Bella Coola (Nuxalk), and Bella Bella (Heiltsuk). Native American Images note: Sketches

General physical description: Black cloth binding, 351p.

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Field notes 1889 #2
[1889]Black cloth binding, 6

Part of BAAS survey, including linguistic data on Bella Coola (Nuxalk), Rivers Inlet (Oowekeeno, Wuikinuxv), Kwakiutl (Kwakwaka'wakw), Nootka (Nuu-chah-nulth). Native American Images note: Sketches

General physical description: Black cloth binding, 373p.

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Field notes, 1909-1912 #1, Pochutla and Chatino
1909-1912Red paper bindingbox 6

Listas de palabras, incluidos los nombres de los hablantes de los que se suscitó, por "Pochulta" (Pochuctec), y chatino. "[Santiago] Yeitepec" aparece en una lista de palabras chatino, por lo que el lenguaje específico posilbe es, posiblemente, Chatino de la Zona Alta Occidental. (130 páginas) Textos folclóricos y canciones en español. El origen de estas historias, como si son traducciones de cuentos indígenas, no se da. (65 páginas)  Notas sobre variantes del zapoteco. (2 páginas)

Word lists, including names of speakers from whom they were elicited, for "Pochulta" (Pochuctec), and Chatino. "[Santiago] Yeitepec" is listed in one Chatino word list, so the specific language may be Western Highlands Chatino. (130 pages) Folkloristic texts and songs in Spanish. The origin of these stories, such as if they are translations of indigenous stories, is not given. (65 pages) Notes on varieties of Zapotec. (2 pages) Native American Images note: Sketches

General physical description: Red paper binding

Other Descriptive Information: Identification as Pochutla and Chatino made by Brian Carpenter, July 2016.

Other Descriptive Information: Boas published about this Pochutla fieldwork in his article "El Dialecto Mexicano de Pochutla," International Journal of American Linguistics 1 (1917): 9-44.

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