7. “I Wrote All My Notes in Shorthand”: A First Glance into the Treasure Chest of Franz Boas’s Shorthand Field Notes
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221 7 “I Wrote All My Notes in Shorthand” A First Glance into the Treasure Chest of Franz Boas’s Shorthand Field Notes I tell you, if I should not become really famous one day, I shall not know what to do. It is a horrible thought to envision for myself a life spent unknown and unnoticed by the people. F. Boas to his sister Toni, September 5, 1875, translated by the author There is no doubt that Franz Boas, the personification of American cultural anthropology and the concept of cultural relativism, eventuallysucceededinmakinghisurgecometrue ,whichheexpressedinthe linefromalettertohissisterToniquotedabove.Moreimportantlyfor thisessay,though,isthefactthatthisurgeledBoastobuildforhimself alastingandmonumentallegacyinwritingthat,tothisday,influences research by countless scholars both directly and indirectly. Among themarethosescholarswhoarestilltryingtocopewiththeenormous amount of raw material left behind by this restless mind. My current research and book project, which this essay reflects upon, belong to thiscategory.ItdealswiththeonlybodyofmaterialofFranzBoasthat has remained virtually untouched to this day: his shorthand writings. WhenIrealizedthat,despitethegreatinterestinthepersonofFranz Boas and his immense influence, no one had worked on the subject before, I came to wonder why. Soon some initial answers emerged. Aside from the fact that he used a shorthand system that fell out of practice at the end of the nineteenth century, another factor appeared to be at least as daunting: his terrible handwriting. This is attested not only by his school grades for penmanship (his worst ones), by countless documented complaints by recipients of his handwritten letters, Rainer Hatoum 222 Rainer Hatoum and by many scholarly readers of his writings but also by Boas himself .1 Among the many excuses he put forward—often saying that he was writing in “haste” and had not time—the following explanation, related by the fifteen-year-old Boas to his sister Toni, who was in New York at that time, stands out: “You may wonder why my handwriting isevenworsetodaythanusually.ThereasonisthatIhavestartedlearning how to write all over again. This, now, is a mixture of two forms of handwriting [German Kurrent script and Latin script]. Also, I have started with shorthand again” (September 27, 1873, aps).2 While trying to explain the reasons for his messy writing, Boas revealed not only when he came to start changing his longhand writing from German Kurrent (fig. 5) to Latin (fig. 6) script but also when he seriously started learning shorthand.3 Even though not much can be said about Boas’s shorthand improvements by examining surviving documents, one can state that the change in his longhand involved a process that took many years, ending about 1882, just about when he started exchanging letters with his future wife, Marie Krackowizer , and when he embarked upon his first major field trip to Baffin Land. As to his use of shorthand, it is from this trip that the oldest examples have survived, about ten years after he proclaimed to have started learning shorthand (fig. 7). This is surprising, as Boas must have practiced and used shorthand long before and in many contexts of daily life. The fact that Boas must have used shorthand in many different contexts is a particularity of Boas’s surviving shorthand notes as a whole, as the only shorthand notes that have survived are those strictly work-related ones that he took down during his field trips. The next quote, taken from a letter written during one of his last field trips in 1923, is proof. It shows that neither his handwriting nor his shorthand ever improved and that his handwriting actually posed a challenge for Boas himself too, a realization that gives me great comfort and satisfaction, given the troubles I have had and still have with it at times: “Dear Toni, . . . my hand is all cramped from continuous writing in Bella Bella. My shorthand was really a great help. I wrote all my notes in shorthand. I hope that I will be able to read them” (December 18, 1923, in Rohner 1969:286).4 Fig. 5. Boas’s early family letters (such as this example, in which he first mentions his learning of shorthand) were rendered in German Kurrent script. Sequence of letter; September 27, 1873, box 3, b b61p. Photo by the author, used with permission of the American Philosophical Society. Fig. 6. Longhand filed notes and later letters by Boas (such as these lines, used in the title of this essay) were almost all written in Latin script. December 18, 1923, box 12, b b61p. Photo by the author, used with permission of the American Philosophical Society. 224 Rainer Hatoum Getting Started: A Personal Experience Before turning to some preliminary...


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