Collecting Chinese Folklore: Franz Boas, Berthold Laufer, and the Anthropological Museum Exhibit at the Turn of the Century


John R. Haddad (Penn State Harrisburg)

In 1900, Franz Boas sought to advance his anthropological vision by adding a Chinese collection to the American Museum of Natural History. Chinese culture, he believed, possessed a complexity that supported his model of societal development (Cultural Relativism) and undermined the widely-accepted Cultural Evolution. Boas arranged for fellow anthropologist Berthold Laufer to lead an expedition to China. Fearing that modernizing forces would soon destroy traditional Chinese culture, Laufer accepted. He collected thousands of artifacts that represented China’s rich folk culture. Sadly, the collection ultimately fell prey to misunderstanding and controversy. In explaining its fate, this paper illuminates the contentious nature of anthropology in this period.

Part of 26-05 Race, Ethnicity, and Nation in the History of Folklore and Folklife Studies, Tuesday, October 19, 5:15 pm–6:45 pm