Grant TypeDissertation Fieldwork Grant
Institutional AffiliationPennsylvania, U. of
Grant numberGr. 9613
Approve DateApril 13, 2018
Project TitleMitchell, Paul J., U. of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, PA - To aid research on 'Tracing Racial Formations: Objectivity, Meaning, and Morphology in 19th Century Craniology,' supervised by Dr. Adriana Petryna
PAUL J. MITCHELL, then a graduate student at University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, received a grant in April 2018 to aid research on ‘Tracing Racial Formations: Objectivity, Meaning, and Morphology in 19th Century Craniology,’ supervised by Dr. Adriana Petryna. This project has interrogated how skulls were made into scientific objects in comparative racial craniology, specifically focusing on the relationship between skulls and illustrations made of them in major European craniological publications between 1790-1880. A 3D laser scanner was used to make accurate models of approximately 150 skulls from the historic human cranial collections of Petrus Camper, of J.F. Blumenbach, and of other European anthropologists. These 3D cranial models will be precisely compared, using geometric morphometrics, to the published illustrations (including woodcuts, engravings, and lithographs) of the same crania. Preliminary results suggest that illustrations of skulls in many of these publications were significantly distorted or idealized in order to exaggerate morphological racial differences. Interestingly, some of the historically earliest illustrations appear the most accurate, and accuracy declines through the early-mid 19th century, until about 1860 and the standardization of craniological drawing techniques. Research on the crania chosen by craniologists to be illustrated to represent racial difference suggests that craniologists chose extreme rather than typical skulls from each category within their collections. Additionally, new archival research on the history of these skulls has revealed new insights into the ethics and social practices of collecting human crania in the 19th century.