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Week 9: Measurement and classification

Lecturer: Elise Smith

This week we will explore the history of medical and popular ideas of a ‘normal’ human body, and the ways in which historical understandings of such physical norms have been shaped by ideas of about the meaning of external differences, particularly around the development of scientific racism. We will also look at the emergence of anthropometry (measuring the body), and ask: can health really be 'measured', or have measurements been predominantly used to discriminate against bodies that don't fit standards that are ultimatley more subjective than objective?

Discussion/Essay Questions:

  • Why did a science of race emerge in the Enlightenment?
  • How was anthropometry used to legitimise racial prejudice?
  • How have measurements been used to define 'healthy' and 'unhealthy' bodies?

Required Readings:

Amanda M. Czerniawski ‘From Average to Ideal: The Evolution of the Height and Weight Table in the United States, 1836-1943’, Social Science History, 31 (2007), pp. 273-296. e-journal (NB: compare to Annemarie Jutel, below)

Stephen Jay Gould, ‘Chapter 3: Measuring Heads’ in Stephen Jay Gould, The Mismeasure of Man, revised and expanded edition (New York: Norton, 1996), pp. 105-141. course extract ***You can read about critiques of this influential book here: and see the skulls theselves here: Morton Crania

Lundy Braun, 'Spirometry, Measurement, and Race in the Nineteenth Century,' Journal of the History of Medicine and Allied Sciences, 60 (2005), pp. 135–169 [e-journal]

Further Readings:

Clare Anderson, ‘Voir/Savoir: Photographing, measuring and fingerprinting the Indian Criminal’, in Clare Anderson, Legible Bodies: Race Criminality and Colonialism in South Asia (Oxford, 2004), pp. 141-180. e-book

Howard Bodenhorn, ‘The Mulatto Advantage: The Biological Consequences of Complexion in Rural Antebellum Virginia’, Journal of Interdisciplinary History, 33 (2002), pp. 21-46. e-journal NB: This article shows anthropometry as a tool for historians: what do you think of this approach?

Adam Dewbury. ‘The American School and Scientific Racism in Early American Anthropology’, Histories of Anthropology Annual, 3 (2007), pp. 121-147. e-journal

Bronwen Douglas, ‘Climate to crania: Science and the Racialisation of Human Difference’, in Douglas, Bronwen and Chris Ballard (eds.), Foreign bodies: Oceania and the science of race, 1750-1940 (Canberra, 2008), pp. 33-96. [free download here]

John S. Haller ‘Civil War Anthropometry: The Making of a Racial Ideology’, Civil War History 16.4 (1970): 309-324. e-journal

Brad Hume, ‘Quantifying Characters: Polygenist Anthropologists and the Hardening of Heredity’, Journal of the History of Biology, 41 (2008), pp. 119-158. e-journal

Annemarie Jutel, ‘Does Size Really Matter? Weight and Values in Public Health’, Perspectives in Biology and Medicine, 44 (2001), pp. 283-296. e-journal

Paul Jorion, ‘The Downfall of the Skull,’ RAIN 48 (1982), pp. 8-11 [JSTOR]

Douglas A. Lorimer, Colour, Class and the Victorians (Leicester, 1978), esp. Ch. 7 ‘Scientific Racism and Mid-Victorian Racial Attitudes’, pp.131-161.

Miriam Claude Meijer, Race and Aesthetics in the Anthropology of Petrus Camper,1722-1789 (Amsterdam and Atlanta, 1999).

Gwenda Morgan and Peter Rushton, 'Visible Bodies: Power, Subordination and Identity in the Eighteenth-Century Atlantic World', Journal of Social History, 39 (2005), pp. 39-64. e-journal

Londa Schiebinger, ‘Theories of Gender and Race’, in Londa Schiebinger, Nature's Body: Gender in the Making of Modern Science (Boston MA, 1993), pp. 143-183.

Chandak Sengoopta, Imprint of the Raj: How Fingerprinting was Born in Colonial India (London: Macmillan, 2003).

Nancy Leys Stepan, The Idea of Race in Science: Great Britain, 1800-1960 (London, 1982)

Martin Staum, ‘Nature and Nurture in French Ethnography and Anthropology, 1859-1914’, Journal of the History of Ideas, 65 (2004), pp. 475-495. e-journal

Kim Wagner, 'Confessions of a Skull: Phrenology and Colonial Knowledge in Early Nineteenth-Century India', History Workshop Journal, 69 (2010), pp. 27-51. e-journal.