Publications and Research

Document Type

Book Chapter or Section

Publication Date

Spring 2018


This chapter explores the expressivism of Franz Boas’s anthropological and linguistic thought, and situates Boas in a late-nineteenth- century cultural and intellectual milieu in which the theory and practice of self-expression took on unprecedented significance. Boas’s expressivism had deep roots in German intellectual culture, but was also influenced in surprising ways by his experiences in the Americas, in particular by the “philosophy of expression” espoused by Daniel Garrison Brinton, to whom Boas paid tribute in a 1899 obituary. Yet the history of Boas’s expressivism goes beyond intellectual history and the transmission of scholarly theories among European and Euro-American academics; for during precisely the same years in which Boas formulated his expressivist theory of culture, self-expression was emerging as a key slogan for indigenous activists like the Yavapai newspaper editor Carlos Montezuma. This simultaneous, cross-contextual efflourescence of “expressive enlightenment” reflects the ethical and cultural signficance of circulating discourse in the social imaginary of turn-of- the-century modernism.


This chapter appears in Indigenous Visions: Rediscovering the World of Franz Boas, edited by Ned Blackhawk and Isaiah Wilner (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2017)


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