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

Vaught's Practical Character Reader


     A classic example of how this physiognomic mindset can weasel it’s way into the mainstream is Louis Allen Vaught’s Practical Character Reader. Published at the beginning of the 20th century in 1902, Vaught’s Practical Character Reader has pages upon pages of supposed “examples” of facial phenotypes and their relation to personality. This book was created to portray the many different types of people, their characteristics, and how that relates back to the kind of person that they are. It was made with the intention of vilifying some groups of people while putting others on a pedestal. By no small coincidence did those vilified correlate with the marginalized groups at the time, and those held in high esteem appeared similarly to individuals of White Anglo-Saxon descent

    If this publication were to become popular, it would require that nobody could argue against it, unless they had some knowledge of biology to refute the book’s claims, much like the general population at the beginning of the century. While many Americans are technically literate, the vast majority of us could not understand the science section of the New York Times in full. This is the problem racial equality faced in the 1900’s, with people reading publications like Vaught’s Character Reader, and not being able to make their own scientifically informed decision on whether or not to believe the publication.

    Without the aid of the internet and the wealth of knowledge we have access to today, dispelling myths of race was near impossible. Vaught, in publishing this book, has embodied the idea of the dominant ideology trying to justify it’s assertion of dominance.


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