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 Nordic and Anti-Nordic The lifelong hostility between Madison Grant and Franz Boas was the personification if not the core of the nature -nurture debate in the United States. Grant was the prophet of scientific racism and, in Ellsworth Huntington ’s phrase, the perennial “cheer leader of the Nordics in America.” Boas, on the other hand, devoted a lifetime to counteracting “the vicious, pseudo scientific activity of so-called scientists” who belittled nurture and promoted “this Nordic nonsense.”1 We should not lose sight of the fact that Grant and Boas both shared a belief in the power of science and reason to benefit humankind and transform the world. (A. L. Kroeber’s remark of Boas—“It is indubitable that science was his religion”—applied equally to Madison Grant.)2 In addition, both men were associated with the American Museum of Natural History, where they occasionally interacted and worked to modernize its anthropological collection. And both also loved the Pacific Northwest and traveled there often (in fact, unbeknownst to them, their paths crossed more than once in the region as the one tracked big game and the other conducted fieldwork). But Franz Boas (1858–1942) was the antithesis of Madison Grant. Whereas Grant was the scion of an aristocratic American family and displayed all the attitudes and prejudices implied by such a heritage, Boas was the product of an upper-middle-class German household in which, as he put it, “the ideals of the revolution of 1848 were a living force.” His progressive Jewish parents raised him with a firm belief in the dignity of the individual and the equipotentiality of all humans. As such, during his four-decade reign at Columbia University as the world’s most famous anthropologist, Boas preached with increasing vigor and confidence against racial prejThere is war, not peace, in the camps of the learned. F.J.E. Woodbridge udice, and consciously and actively worked to thwart the dangerous influence of Grant (“that charlatan”) and his disciples.3 Boas rejected Grant’s division of mankind into biologically distinct and hierarchical subspecies. He challenged not only the superiority but the very existence of the Nordic race. And he denied that there was any correlation between the physical characteristics of a population and its mental or moral traits. The latter, he asserted, were created by the “culture” in which an individual was raised, not his or her germ plasm. Where Grant proclaimed that man was a mammal like any other and that anthropology ought to be a branch of zoology, Boas took the opposite tack and, in the words of Elazar Barkan, “divorced the biological from the cultural study of humankind.” In sum, Boas categorically rejected every tenet of Grant’s scienti fic racism and actively opposed every facet of Grant’s eugenic program. Of course, it was clear to Grant that the root of Boas’s hostility lay in the fact that he was a Jew, and Grant explained to Maxwell Perkins that Boas “naturally does not take stock in [my version of] anthropology which relegates him and his race to the inferior position that they have occupied throughout recorded history.”4 Interestingly, the two titans rarely attacked each other directly in public, at least in the early years. Neither felt he could afford to antagonize the other, and besides, each man invariably affected a tone of charming refinement that required he behave in a courtly manner whenever possible. Instead, for decades they engaged—like the United States and the USSR during the Cold War—in a series of proxy wars on the periphery, each of which was intended to showcase their strength and prevent their opponent from increasing his sphere of in- fluence. This chapter explores just a sampling of those incidents, to wit: Madison Grant’s attempt to establish the Galton Society as an alternative to the American Anthropological Association; the struggle for control of the National Research Council; and the contest over the Journal of Physical Anthropology. If, as we delve into these complicated and long-forgotten controversies, the issues sometimes seem arcane if not downright petty, it will be good to bear in mind that, like the Cold War battles over Quemoy and Matsu, a great deal more was at stake then met the eye. The lives of millions of persons depended on the struggle over the validity of scientific racism. The American Anthropological Association Franz Boas began publicly chipping away at the...

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Additional Information

ISBN
9781584658108
Related ISBN
9781584657156
MARC Record
OCLC
667076920
Pages
508
Launched on MUSE
2012-07-31
Language
English
Open Access
No
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