Elise Smith: “Skulls, Nation and Empire: The Rise and Fall of British Craniology, 1800-1939” (07/11)

Elise Smith, Assistant Professor en histoire de la médecine à l’Université de Warwick, présentera son ouvrage à paraître chez Cambridge University Press, Skulls, Nation and Empire: The Rise and Fall of British Craniology, 1800-1939, le jeudi 7 novembre 2019 de 17h à 18h30. Maison de la Recherche, 28 rue Serpente, Paris 6e, salle D421

Abstract :

“In the nineteenth century, craniometry, the study of skull measurements, became one of the most commonly employed tools of anthropologists, anatomists, biologists and statisticians as they investigated human racial variation and development. This paper charts the mature development of craniometry as a quantitative enterprise in Victorian Britain, examining efforts to transform racial anthropology into an objective ‘science of man.’ In the process, it reveals how the collection and measurement of skulls operated as a complementary enterprise, requiring an advanced infrastructure of specimen collection, instrumentation, and institutional support. Although craniometry was employed both a basis for classification and a means by which peoples could be ranked according to their perceived cognitive abilities, its ostensible neutrality was undermined by an internal lack of standardization and increasingly sophisticated statistical techniques that challenged its core assumptions. The history of craniometry’s ‘rise and fall’ thus shows how shifting criteria for scientific acceptance shaped understandings of human difference against a backdrop of imperial expansion and professional anxieties”.