From the 1880s to the 1940s, Franz Boas (1858–1942) helped to define academic anthropology in the United States. His first fieldwork was among the Inuit of Baffin Island in 1883. Through his subsequent focus on the cultures of the Northwest Coast, Boas became a central figure in American anthropology by the first decade of the 20th century, arguing against the dominant 19th-century theories of cultural evolution. As Professor of Anthropology at Columbia University, Boas trained a generation of students in linguistics and anthropology in methods still central to those fields to this day. He was also a leading public intellectual, known as an outspoken opponent of scientific racism, anti-Semitism, and fascism.
The APS holds six collections related to Franz Boas. The largest of these, The Franz Boas Papers, has been fully digitized and can be viewed online. The majority of Boas’s core fieldwork among many cultures, especially the Kwakwaka’wakw, who he referred to as the “Kwakiutl,” can be found in the American Council of Learned Societies Committee on Native American Languages (or ACLS) collection. This collection also contains foundational linguistic and ethnographic fieldwork relating to over 170 languages by Boas, his contemporaries, and his students.