The University of Nebraska Press, in partnership with Western University, Canada, and the American Philosophical Society, was recently awarded $2.5 million from the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada to edit and publish a series of 17 volumes of the Franz Boas Papers over the next seven years.
Franz Boas was a founding figure of North American anthropology and a distinguished public intellectual until his death in 1942. His name no longer resonates beyond academic communities, but his concept of “cultural relativism” is a common term in the United States. Boas sought to understand the relationships between culture, language, songs, stories, and religion among Native American and Canadian First Nations peoples.
The origins of the Franz Boas Papers series began when Matt Bokovoy, senior editor at University of Nebraska Press, and Regna Darnell, professor of anthropology at Western University, discussed a premier intellectual documentary series related to anthropology in 2008.
“While researching for my first book in the Franz Boas Papers, located at the American Philosophical Society in Philadelphia,” said Bokovoy, “I read through some of the correspondence and professional papers. It was vast: a virtual intellectual history of the first half of the twentieth century.”
Darnell, a fellow of the APS, agreed. She invited Bokovoy to the APS spring meeting in 2009 to gauge the society’s interest in publishing the Boas Papers. Darnell took the lead over the ensuing years to cement the partnerships between University of Nebraska Press, Western University, and the APS, and to reach out to University of Victoria and the Musgamagw Dzawada’eneuxw Tribal Council for collaboration in the elaborate documentary series.
“The primary objective of this project is to conduct research that makes Boas’s professional and personal papers understandable for a contemporary audience and widely accessible in print and digital formats,” Darnell said. “These documents include previously unedited and unpublished correspondence and linguistic manuscripts that will provide a major resource for the intellectual and cultural history of the social sciences and humanities from the 1880s to 1940s.”
By making these works available, Darnell hopes to encourage public discourse and dialogue with First Nations scholars and their communities, and to encourage effective communications between Native and non-Native Canadians. The first volume is expected to be published in 2015 by University of Nebraska Press.