Ruth Benedict: An Anthropologist’s Historical Writings
Ruth Benedict was one of the most influential anthropological theorists of her generation, best known for her comparative, “socio-psychological” approach to the study of distinctive cultural configurations. The historicized culture concept Benedict elaborated, institutionalized, and popularized, was one she learned from Franz Boas, then America’s foremost anthropologist. In comparative works aimed at a popular audience, Benedict combined science and humanist historical perspectives to undermine dangerous ideas about race and racism. She saw historical knowledge as a tool to combat the idea that racism and conflict were inevitable. She argued, instead, that history and the study of other cultures provided a fuller understanding of human variety and capacity for change. For Benedict, history and culture offered hope for the possibility of creating a different world.