Studies Overseas (3)
Holidays in Paris lasted only from Christmas to New Year's Day. Professor Mauss got me registered at the Hautes Études for the diploma. I bought the series "l'Année sociologique" in six volumes (large), containing so many captivating works: "Variations saisonnières parmi les Esquimaux" by Hubert and Mauss; "Les rites de la mort" by Robert Hertz;" Les orientations symboliques...." (The latter led me to a rather detailed and enthusiastic study of the Zunis and the Pueblos in the Southwest United States, my first contact the natives of America). One day, at the Hautes Études, I met Henri Beuchat, whose "Manuel d'archéologique américaine" had just beeen published. Later, (in 1914) I had him chosen as one of the two Ethnologists of the Stefansson Expedition on the Arctic coast.
Toward the spring of 1908, at Oxford, my tutor Marett seemed to find that I had progressed well enough with my English to give me another direction. I needed to chose a thesis subject for the BA. Before, I was studying (with three companions) only for the Diploma of Anthropology. I was flattered by the idea and I accepted. But what thesis topic to choose? I had to think about it. In Paris again, for the Easter holidays, I saw professor Mauss again and spoke with him about it. The subject that I was toying with was "Masks". Mauss shook his head no. It was too vast, too spread out, in all the parts of the world. I would never be able to grasp my subject, still less put it together for a short thesis exam. He suggested: why not the social organization of natives of the Northwest coast, in Canada, my country? A very wise suggestion, and I accepted.
I spoke with my tutor about it, and he had the same suggestion. I started to work on it, first on a short bibliography. Then I found a lot of printed matter at the Bodleian Library: Boas entered my life for the first time. My study of the subject for the thesis would last two years and a term. After my three years' study in Oxford and Paris, I passed my examination. Sir William Osler was a Canadian, a religious professor of medicine, a noted authority. He came to me and placed a letter in front of me, after my successful examination. He said, "When you go to Canada, go and see the Honourable Mr. Fisher, in Ottawa. He may have a position for you there. You should go back to Canada, young fellow, there are no anthropologists there; anthropology is not studied, and there is no one at the Geological Survey. That should be your place there, make it your own."