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Franz Boas photograph collection

Identifier: PPC .B63

Scope and Content Note

The Franz Boas Photo Collection consists mainly of photographs of Northwest Coast Natives from the Jesup North Pacific Expedition: 1897-1902, sponsored by AMNH, and the Boas Expedition to Northwest Territories in 1894. There was no original order within this collection and most of the collection is stamped with the marking, “From the Boas Collection 43.” Many other sources besides Boas contributed to this collection, including the British Columbia Provincial Museum, the Field Museum of Chicago, C.F. Newcombe, Edward Dossetter, and Richard Maynard. The only photographs taken by Boas himself are the contact prints found in Boxes 1, 2, and 3. Some images were pulled in preparation for publications and memoirs of the Jesup North Pacific Expedition. Additionally, some of the photos were used in AMNH’s temporary exhibit, Chiefly Feasts: The Enduring Kwakiutl Potlatch, October 8, 1991-February 23, 1992, as well as the monographs published by AMNH, Chiefly Feasts: The Enduring Kwakiutl Potlatch and From the Land of the Totem Poles: The Northwest Coast Indian Art Collection at the American Museum of Natural History, both edited by Aldona Jonaitis


  • 1868-1943
  • Majority of material found within 1894-1902


Access Conditions and Restrictions Note

Requests to use the collection should be made in advance to the Senior Special Collections Librarian, who may be contacted at 212-769-5420 or at [email protected]

Biographical Note

Franz Uri Boas is considered the “Father of Modern Anthropology" for his pioneering work on race, culture, and language, particularly within the cultures of American Indians. Boas was born on July 9, 1858 in Minden, Westphalia (Germany) and studied physics and geography. In 1881, Boas received his Ph.D. in Physics from Kiel for a piece concerning the perception of seawater by the Inuit.

Boas worked with the Inuit of Baffin Island from 1883-1884, spurring his interest in primitive culture from observations of the Eskimos. From 1885-1886 Boas worked with Rudolf Virchow and Adolf Bastian at the Royal Ethnographic Museum in Berlin. In 1886 Boas made the first of many trips to the North Pacific Coast to study the Kwakiutl and other tribes of British Columbia, on which he later specialized.

In 1887, Boas left Germany for a position as assistant editor of the journal Science in the United States, becoming a permanent U.S. resident. In 1888 Boas began teaching at Clark University, followed by a position at the Chicago Field Museum that lasted until 1894. In 1895, Boas was appointed Assistant Curator of Ethnology at the American Museum of Natural History (AMNH), became Curator of Ethnology from 1900-1903, and served as Curator of Anthropology at AMNH from 1904-1905. Boas led the Boas Expedition to Northwest Territories in 1894, traveling to Vancouver, British Columbia to collect materials on Northwest Coast Indians. Boas also directed and edited reports for the Jesup North Pacific Expedition: 1897-1902, the purpose of which was to investigate relationships between the aborigines of Siberia and North America. George Hunt and James Teit served as Boas’ guides to facilitate interactions and aid in translation on his Northwest Coast expeditions. Between 1897 and 1903 Boas secured funding, fielded research teams, and over the next three decades, edited and supervised Expedition publications in addition to his other writing.

Boas began teaching at Columbia University in 1896 and became Professor of Anthropology at Columbia in 1899. Boas trained and influenced many notable ethnologists and linguists, such as Robert Lowie, Margaret Mead, Melville Herskovits, and Zora Neale Hurston. Boas is credited for being responsible for encouraging women to enter the field of anthropology.

Boas left AMNH in 1905 and continued working at Columbia until his death on December 21, 1942. During his lifetime he established the International Journal of American Linguistics, and played a key role in organizing the American Anthropological Association. As a specialist in cultures and languages of the American Indians, Boas facilitated the creation of at least two dictionaries of Native American languages, including Kwakwala by Dan Cranmer and another of Dakota language co-written with his student Ella Cara Deloria. In fall 2008, members of the Kwakiutl tribe traveled to AMNH to advise researchers concerning the temporary exhibit, Chiefly Feasts: The Enduring Kwakiutl Potlatch, October 18, 1991-Feburary 23, 1992, where portions of this photo collection were displayed.


4 Linear Feet (4 boxes) : 650 black and white photographs, 39 postcards, 148 individual contact prints, 90 photocopied nitrate negatives, 7 envelopes, 3 movie stills, 1 color enhanced photograph,1 newspaper illustration, 1 business card, 1 painting

Language of Materials



The material ranges from fair to poor condition. All prints are sleeved, but some photographs are severely faded and/or tearing

Source of Acquisition Note

Transferred from the Department of Anthropology in 1992. Part of this collection was found in Dr. Stanley Freed’s office by Stacey Marcus in 1989 while preparing the Chiefly Feast exhibit and catalog.

Related Materials Note

Related material can be found in the AMNH Anthropology Archives. The majority of the Anthropology collection is stamped “Boas Collection 43” with the exception of the Anthropometric data sheets.

Catalog/Call Number: PH 1/92 contains 71 photographs from Boas’ personal collection. Photos in this collection were all taken by Jessie Tarbox Beals, Press Photographer, St. Louis, Missouri.

Catalog/Call Number: PH 1/93 contains 265 photographs, 21 postcards, and 1 illustration from Boas’ personal collection. Collection includes photos of various tribes and locales, photos of objects in other collections, postcards, and miscellaneous other subjects.

Catalog/Call Number: .B637 includes artwork from Boas’ personal collection and also includes North American Indian data sheets collected under Boas’ direction, 1891-1902 and Arctic and Siberian data sheets collected by Waldemar Jochelson

Separated Materials Note

One envelope was removed from Box 1 and returned to PPC.A381. All materials are stamped, “Boas Collection 43.” The envelope contains 30 black and white photographs of unidentified African objects, 2 original prints by Jessie Tarbox Beals of Pygmies at the St. Louis Expo, 1904, 2 mounted photographs, and 1 autographed portrait and sleeve of Michael E. Anash, Gold Coast West Africa, taken at the Tuskegee Institute, Alabama

Physical Description Note

Collection consists of photographs (bulk of material), postcards, envelopes, contact prints, a newspaper illustration, business card, and painting


Franz Boas photograph collection, 1868-1943 (bulk 1894-1902)
Lauren Dzura, Alexandra Guillen
December 2011, August 2018
Description rules
Describing Archives: A Content Standard
Language of description
Script of description
Code for undetermined script
Language of description note
Finding aid created with support from the Council on Library and Information Resources (CLIR) Hidden Collections grant, 2010.

Repository Details

Part of the Museum Archives at the Gottesman Research Library Repository

American Museum of Natural History
200 Central Park West
New York NY 10024 USA
(212) 769-5420