A Maverick Boasian explores the often contradictory life of Alexander Goldenweiser (1880–1940), a scholar considered by his contemporaries to be Franz Boas's most brilliant and most favored student. The story of his life and scholarship is complex and exciting as well as frustrating. Although Goldenweiser came to the United States from Russia as a young man, he spent the next forty years thinking of himself as a European intellectual who never felt entirely at home. A talented ethnographer, he developed excellent rapport with his Native American consultants but cut short his fieldwork due to lack of funds. An individualist and an anarchist in politics, he deeply resented having to compromise any of his ideas and freedoms for the sake of professional success. A charming man, he risked his career and family life to satisfy immediate needs and wants.
A number of his books and papers on the relationship between anthropology and other social sciences helped foster an important interdisciplinary conversation that continued for decades after his death. For the first time, Sergei Kan brings together and examines all of Goldenweiser's published scholarly works, archival records, personal correspondences, nonacademic publications, and living memories from several of Goldenweiser's descendants.
Goldenweiser attracted attention for his unique progressive views on such issues as race, antisemitism, immigration, education, pacifism, gender, and individual rights. His was a major voice in a chorus of progressive Boasians who applied the insights of their discipline to a variety of questions on the American public's mind. Many of the battles he fought are still with us today.