So, we're in the Americas now.
I've included a picture of Franz Boas, who I discussed before. Boas was a very strict empiricist who paid little attention to theory that was not supported by evidence. In the case of Anthropology he was highly critical of the evolutionists who had spent much time producing 'armchair' theory based on little actual data. He also perceived the mass extinction of Native Americans occurring in the United States and therefore sought to collect as much information as possible about these indigenous groups. Boas also despised the racist sentiments that were prevalent in much social science at the time and so he specifically targeted his research on culture to show that biology had very little to do with people's intelligence. In terms of the environment, Boas' work suggested that it didn't matter if you lived in Ohio or Timbuktu, your beliefs and behavior stemmed from the culture you had been born and raised into.
Boas' impact on American Anthropology was deep and broad. He set up camp at Columbia and began cranking out the nation's first Ph.D.s in anthropology. Moreover, he sent them out forth as if they were missionaries to spread the word of historical particularism (a perspective that suggests that cultures are entirely unique and therefore must be studied with attention to historical details rather than appeals to larger theories). The nations most famous anthropologists were students of Boas, including: Margaret Mead, Ruth Benedict, Alfred Kroeber, Clark Wissler, Robert Lowie, Edward Sapir, and Fay-Cooper Cole. These students established anthropology departments across the country and American Anthropology entered its childhood.
In line with the Boas' culture-focused scheme, few anthropologists paid much attention to environment in the first decades of the 20th century. A notable exception was Clark Wissler whose "culture area" concept suggested that similarities in cultures could be explained, in part, as adjustments to particular environments. In other words, Wissler suggested that though environments didn't PRODUCE cultures, they furnished the mediums through which grew. Thus, a culture had certain elements that were related to the geographical area in which it was located.
Wissler's contemplation of the connection between culture and environment previewed the work of arguably the most important figure in ecological and environmental anthropology, Julian Steward.
Steward is a very interesting figure, who did much of his early fieldwork in the Great Basin among the Shoshone, so I'm quite fond of him. His story is fascinating, so in my next entry I'll try to focus a bit more on him as a person, as well as his important contributions to my discipline.
As an ending note, I'd like to invite whomever might be reading to think about an idea that I rediscovered recently in an article by Terry Tempest Williams. She discusses the "open space of democracy", a need for open spaces: physical, spiritual, emotional, political, and social were new ideas can be presented and discussed so that we can envision alternative futures. As I watch my own country narrow its focus more and more on fictive dangers like 'terrorism' while true dangers lurk both home and abroad (wire-tapping, secret vice-presidencies, attacks on dissent, poverty, AIDS, global warming. . .), I wonder if we can all find ways to re-open some of these spaces for democracy. Can we ignore some of the disctractions and take time to find these places? There are real spaces, between FOX and CNN, where real ideas hum like notes waiting for a singer to sing them into something new and beautiful. I hope we can all begin to find spaces to rethink our world; otherwise they will all disappear.