Measuring Prejudice: Race Sciences of the 18-19th Centuries

Repercussions of Phrenology Today

Scientists were influenced for decades more to study the emotional and intellectual facets of a human based on his or her skull shape and size. For years, these ideas were applied to the European skull to measure the parts of the brain that might indicate whether a human may be of great intellectual capacity or whether he may become a criminal one day; whether a mother may be a very generous loving one or may beat and neglect her children. 

Outside of the scientific sphere however, these suggestions also have very heavy implications that affect our society today. At the start of the 20th century, L.A. Vaught published the Practical Character Reader 
for how to read the human skull's shapes and morphologies to interpret a human's character. This manual consisted of how to make phenotypic judgments, and was widely sold and influential. Today, ideas from this book stick with us in our language, body language, and idioms. We say someone is "stuck up," if they are snobby or selfish, rooted in the observations by the Fowler brothers and illustrated in the Vaught Reader. Someone is hard headed, if they are stubborn, but this came from the believe that someone with a prominent forehead could not be negotiated or reasoned with. 

Today, in the 21st century, these comparisons hold stereotypical meanings that weigh on the physical features of races, of genes passed from one generation to the next based simply on where that family has lived. If a family has passed on the trait of a pointy chin, the study of phrenology persists in believing that each individual in that family with that trait lacks the value of trustworthiness. These beliefs seem so lacking in truth, because just as race and culture, someone's character and system of values depends most heavily on the environment by which they are surrounded as they develop their mind into whatever they will.

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