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Boas, Franz. Race, Language and Culture – T61


Advances in Methods of Teaching 1

Anthropology is one of the subjects that have been added to
the university curriculum quite recently. For this reason I will
devote my remarks to a consideration of the field that anthropological
instruction is intended to cover and of its relations to allied sciences rather
than to a discussion of methods of instruction.

According to purely theoretical definitions, anthropology is the science
of man and might be understood to cover a vast range of subjects. The
physical as well as the mental characters of man may be considered
in a certain way as the proper field of anthropology. But sciences do not
grow up according to definitions. They are the result of historical
development. The subject-matter of anthropology has been accumulated
principally by travellers who have made us acquainted with the
people inhabiting distant countries. Another part of the subject-matter
of anthropology is due to the investigation of prehistoric remains found
in civilized countries. Only after certain methods had developed which
were based largely on the information thus collected was the White race
made the subject of investigation.

For this reason the aim of anthropology has been largely to explain
the phenomena observed among tribes of foreign culture. These phenomena
are naturally divided into three groups: (1) the physical appearance
of man; (2) the languages of man, and (3) the customs and
beliefs of man. In this manner three branches of anthropology have
developed: (1) somatology, or physical anthropology; (2) linguistics,
and (3) ethnology. Up to this time anthropological investigation has
dealt almost exclusively with subjects that may be classed under these
three headings. These subjects are not taken up by any other branch of
science, and in developing them anthropology fills a vacant place in the
system of sciences.

The treatment of these three subjects requires close co-operation between
anthropology and a number of sciences. The investigation of the
621physical characteristics of man has also been taken up by anatomists,
but the point of view of the anatomist and that of the anthropologist
are quite different. While the former is primarily interested in the occurrence
of certain modifications of the human form and in their genetic
interpretation, the anthropologist is interested in the geographical distribution
of varieties of form, in the variability of the human species in
different areas and in their interpretation. The thorough study of physical
anthropology, or somatology, requires the combined training of the
anatomist and of the anthropologist.

In the study of linguistics the anthropologist deals with a subject that
has been partially taken up by the student of special linguistic stocks.
The study of the structure of the Aryan languages, of the Semitic languages
and of the Mongol languages has been carried on with great
success by philologists; but the anthropological problem is a wider one
— it deals with the general question of human language.

In the study of ethnology the field of investigation of the anthropologist
adjoins that of the field of research of the psychologist and of the
sociologist. The development of a truly empirical psychology makes it
necessary to draw largely upon material furnished by anthropological
studies. On the other hand, sociologists have found that the analysis of
the culture of civilized society cannot be carried out successfully without
a comparative study of primitive society, which is the subject-matter
of anthropological research.

The method of anthropology is an inductive method, and the science
must be placed side by side with the other inductive sciences. Our
conclusions are based on comparisons between the forms of development
of the human body, of human language, of human activities, and
must be as truly inductive as those of any other science. By including
psychology and anthropology in the present discussion on the methods
of teaching science, we have given expression to the conviction that the
method of investigation of mental phenomena must be no less an inductive
method than that of physical phenomena.

The teaching of anthropology may be made to supplement in many
ways the teaching of allied subjects, and I will briefly outline its functions
in the university curriculum.

Physical anthropology has come to be primarily a study of the varieties
of man. The differences between different types of man, defined
either geographically or socially, are slight — so slight, indeed, that the
biologist, until quite recent times, would have disregarded them entirely.
622Slight differences in type have been of importance to the student of
anthropology at an earlier time than to the student of zoology, because
we are more deeply interested in the slight differences that occur in our
own species than in those found among animals. For this reason in
anthropology sooner than in zoology the insufficiency of description
was felt. Anthropology was the first of the biological sciences to substitute
measurement for description and the exact number for the vague
word. The method of measuring variable phenomena — in the case of
anthropology, of the variations composing a type — had to be developed.
It is only natural that in the course of this development mistakes
were committed which had to be rectified, and that the sound
method of metric description developed slowly. It would seem that at
present we have reached the stage where the methods of metric description
may be clearly recognized, and we may, therefore, expect confidently
a rapid and wholesome development of physical anthropology.
A glance at recent biological literature shows very clearly that descriptive
zoology and descriptive botany are passing at present to the substitution
of metric description for verbal description that took place in
anthropology some time ago. The study of anthropological methods
may prevent biologists from repeating the same errors that were committed
in the early days of anthropology. Anthropological subjects will,
for a long time to come, remain the most available material for metrical
studies of variations in the higher forms of life, because the material can
be obtained in greater numbers and with greater ease than in studies
of most of the higher animal forms. The metric method, which is at
present principally an anthropological method, will, in a very short time,
become of great importance to the student of biology, who ought, for
this reason, to profit by the experiences of the anthropologist.

The fuller development of physical anthropology will lead to a study
of the physiology and experimental psychology of the races of man.
But in these lines of work we have hardly made a beginning. The relation
of these inquiries to physiology and to psychology will be the same
as that of physical anthropology to anatomy.

I may be allowed to pass by briefly the relations of the linguistic
method of anthropology to other sciences. You will recognize at once
that this subject, as well as its methods, must have a stimulating effect
upon the teaching of philology, because its conclusions are based upon
the broad grounds of human language; not on the studies of a single
family of languages. The science of linguistics is growing slowly on
623account of its intrinsic difficulties. These difficulties are based on the
lack of satisfactory material as well as on the amount of labor involved in
the acquisition of knowledge in its particular line of research. Work in
this field is most urgently needed, because the languages of primitive
man are disappearing rapidly, thus depriving us of valuable material for
comparative study.

Ethnology, the last division of anthropology, covers a vast field. Its
main object may be briefly described as the discovery of the laws governing
the activities of the human mind, and also the reconstruction of the
history of human culture and civilization. The methods applied by
ethnologists are twofold. The investigation of the history of the culture
of definite areas is carried on by means of geographical and of archaeological
methods. The methods are geographical in so far as the types
inhabiting a country, their languages and their customs, are compared
with those of neighboring tribes. They are archaeological in so far as they
deal with the prehistoric remains found in the country in question. In
this case we apply inductive methods for the solution of historical questions.
The investigation of the laws governing the growth of human culture
is carried out by means of comparative methods, and is based on the
results of the historical analysis referred to before. These laws are largely
of a psychological nature. Their great value for the study of the human
mind lies in the fact that the forms of thought which are the subject of
investigation have grown up entirely outside of the conditions which
govern our own thoughts. They furnish, therefore, material for a truly
comparative psychology. The results of the study of comparative linguistics
form an important portion of this material, because the forms
of thought find their clearest expressions in the forms of language.

It appears, from these brief statements of the scope and methods of
anthropological research, that an acquaintance with the whole field is
indispensable for the sociologist; that a knowledge of results and
methods will be of advantage to the psychologist, and that the statistical
method developed in physical anthropology will be very helpful to the
student of biology. In a general way, a knowledge of the outlines of
anthropology seems to be of educational value, particularly in so far as
it broadens the historical views of the student, because it extends his
view over cultures and civilizations that have grown up uninfluenced
by our own. The advances made by our own race will appear to him
in a truer light when he is able to compare them with the work done by
other peoples and races, and if he understands how much our own civilization
624owes to the achievements of people who appear to be at present
on a low level of culture. The methodological value of the teaching of
anthropology lies in the fact that it shows the possibility of applying
inductive methods to the study of social phenomena.625

1 Discussion before the New York meeting of the American Naturalists and
Affiliated Societies (Dec, 1898). Science, N.S., vol. 9 (1899), pp. 93-96.