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Science and self-assessment: phrenological charts 1840–1940

  • FENNEKE SYSLING (a1)
Abstract

This paper looks at phrenological charts as mediators of (pseudo-)scientific knowledge to individual clients who used them as a means of self-assessment. Phrenologists propagated the idea that the human mind could be categorized into different mental faculties, with each particular faculty represented in a different area of the brain and by bumps on the head. In the US and the UK popular phrenologists examined individual clients for a fee. Drawing on a collection of phrenological charts completed for individual clients, this paper shows how charts aspired to convey new ideals of selfhood by using the authority of science in tailor-made certificates, and by teaching clients some of the basic practices of that science. Hitherto historians studying phrenology have focused mainly on the attraction of the content of phrenological knowledge for the wider public, but in this paper I show how the charts enabled clients to participate actively in creating knowledge of their own bodies and selves.

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This is an Open Access article, distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution licence (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/), which permits unrestricted re-use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited.
References
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1 See, for the history of phrenology, Cooter, Roger, The Cultural Meaning of Popular Science: Phrenology and the Organization of Consent in Nineteenth-Century Britain, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1984; Stern, Madeleine B., Heads and Headlines: The Phrenological Fowlers, Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1971; De Giustino, David, Conquest of Mind: Phrenology and Victorian Social Thought, London: Croon Helm, 1975; Lyons, Sherrie Lynne, Species, Serpents, Spirits and Skulls: Science and the Margins in the Victorian Age, Albany: SUNY Press, 2009; van Wyhe, John, Phrenology and the Origins of Victorian Scientific Naturalism: Science, Technology and Culture, 1700–1945, Aldershot: Ashgate, 2004; and many others.

2 Others are from the Wellcome Library in London, the US National Library of Medicine and other collections, and many are digitized and available online at archive.org.

3 A Phrenological Chart of Character (with Supplementary Tables) by Stackpool E. O'Dell & Mrs. Stackpool E. O'Dell, London: The London Phrenological Institution, n.d., History & Special Collections for Medicine and the Sciences, University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) Library Special Collections, WB 365 O23p 1931. Completed for Mr Davis, 18 February 1935.

4 Cooter, op. cit. (1); and Shapin, Steven, ‘Phrenological knowledge and the social structure of early nineteenth-century Edinburgh’, Annals of Science (1975) 32(3), pp. 219243. For a recent example of the intellectual history of phrenology see Jenkins, Bill, ‘Phrenology, heredity and progress in George Combe's Constitution of Man’, BJHS (2015) 48, pp. 455473.

5 van Wyhe, John, ‘Was phrenology a reform science? Towards a new generalization for phrenology’, History of Science (2004) 42, pp. 313331, 325.

6 Goldstein, Jan, The Post-revolutionary Self: Politics and Psyche in France, 1750–1850, Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2005, pp. 310.

7 Van Wyhe, op. cit. (5), p. 318.

8 Rose, Nikolas, Governing the Soul: The Shaping of the Private Self, London: Free Association Books, 1989; Rose, , Inventing Ourselves: Psychology, Power, and Personhood, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1996, pp. 2240; Foucault, Michel, ‘Technologies of the self’, in Martin, Luther H., Gutman, Huck and Hutton, Patrick H. (eds.), Technologies of the Self: A Seminar with Michel Foucault, Amherst: University of Massachusetts Press, 1988, pp. 1649; Taylor, Charles, Sources of the Self: The Making of Modern Identity, Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1989; Giddens, Anthony, Modernity and Self-Identity: Self and Society in the Late Modern Age, Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 1991. For a recent call to study the historical self see Hunt, Lynn, ‘The self and its history’, American Historical Review (2014) 119(5), pp. 15761586.

9 Hofman, Elwin, ‘How to do the history of the self’, History of the Human Sciences (2016) 29, pp. 824; and Bassiri, Nima, ‘What kind of history is the history of the self? New perspectives from the history of mind and brain medicine’, Modern Intellectual History (2017) advance online publication, pp. 113. For micro-management see, for example, Baggerman, Arianne and Dekker, Rudolf (eds.), Controlling Time and Shaping the Self: Developments in Autobiographical Writing since the Sixteenth Century, Leiden: Brill, 2011; and McCarthy, Molly, The Accidental Diarist: A History of the Daily Planner in America, Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 2013.

10 Both reading about the concepts of phrenology and the embodied practice of science would fit within Michel Foucault's definition of technologies of the self. Technologies of the self, he says, ‘permit individuals to effect by their own means or with the help of others a certain number of operations on their own bodies and souls, thought, conduct, and way of being, so as to transform themselves in order to attain a certain state of happiness, purity, wisdom, perfection, or immortality’. Martin, Gutman and Hutton, op. cit. (8), p. 18.

11 Secord, Anne, ‘Science in the pub: artisan botanists in early nineteenth-century Lancashire’, History of Science (1994) 32(3), pp. 269315; and Keene, Melanie, ‘Familiar science in nineteenth-century Britain’, History of Science (2014) 52(1), pp. 5371. See also van Wyhe, John, ‘The diffusion of phrenology through public lecturing’, in Fyfe, Aileen and Lightman, Bernard (eds.), Science and the Marketplace: Nineteenth-Century Sites and Experiences, Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 2007, pp. 6096; Kember, Joe, Plunkett, John and Sullivan, Jill (eds.), Popular Exhibitions, Science and Showmanship, 1840–1910, London: Pickering & Chatto, 2012; Cooter, Roger and Pumfrey, Stephen, ‘Separate spheres and public places: reflections on the history of science popularization and science in popular culture’, History of Science (1994) 32, pp. 237267, Secord, James A., ‘Knowledge in transit’, Isis (2004) 95, pp. 654672, Lightman, Bernard, Victorian Popularizers of Science: Designing Nature for New Audiences, Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 2007; Topham, Jonathan R., ‘Rethinking the history of science popularization/popular science’, in Papanelopoulou, Faidra, Nieto-Galan, Agustí and Perdiguero, Enrique (eds.), Popularizing Science and Technology in the European Periphery, 1800–2000, Aldershot: Ashgate, 2009, pp. 120; Pandora, Katherine, ‘Knowledge held in common: tales of Luther Burbank and science in the American vernacular’, Isis (2001) 92, pp. 484516; and Pandora, Katherine and Rader, Karen A., ‘Science in the everyday world: why perspectives from the history of science matter’, Isis (2008) 99, pp. 350364.

12 Van Wyhe, op. cit. (5).

13 For England see Van Wyhe, op. cit. (11).

14 Pandora, Katherine, ‘Popular science in national and transnational perspective: suggestions from the American context’, Isis (2009) 100, pp. 346358, 351; and Bittel, Carla, ‘Woman, know thyself: producing and using phrenological knowledge in 19th-century America’, Centaurus (2013) 55, pp. 104130.

15 Keene, op. cit. (11).

16 Stern, op. cit. (1).

17 Cooter, op. cit. (1), p. 260; and Erika Janik, Marketplace of the Marvelous: The Strange Origin of Modern Medicine, Boston, MA: Beacon Press, 2014, p. 68. Janik says there were more than twenty thousand travelling phrenologists in the US, but it is unclear how she arrived at that number.

18 Lyons, op. cit. (1), p. 83. See also van Wyhe, op. cit. (5).

19 Olin, Charles H., Phrenology: How to Tell Your Own and Your Friend's Character from the Shape of the Head, Philadelphia: The Penn Publishing company, 1910, p. 19, UCLA Library Special Collections BF 871.O46p 1910.

20 Letter from Alfred Russel Wallace, Corfe View, Parkstone, Dorset, to William Greenell Wallace, 31 October 1897, Natural History Museum London, Wallace Letters Online, WCP1251.1030.

21 Wallace, Alfred Russel, My Life: A Record of Events and Opinions, vol., London: Chapman and Hall, 1905, p. 257.

22 James Q. Rumball, Phrenological Development, completed for Alfred Russel Wallace, 14 October [1845], Bristol: Philip Rose, Natural History Museum London, Wallace Letters Online, WCP6102.7058; Phrenological Delineation of the Character of [Dr Wallace] by Mr. Edwin Thomas Hicks [n.p., c.1847], Natural History Museum, Wallace Letters Online WCP6101.7057; and Chart and Character of [A.R. Wallace], [n.p., 1897], Natural History Museum, Wallace Letters Online, WCP6110.7066.

23 Goldstein, op. cit. (6), pp. 290–291.

24 ‘Paper tools’ was coined by Ursula Klein in Klein, Ursula, Experiments, Models, Paper Tools: Cultures of Organic Chemistry in the Nineteenth Century, Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 2003, and used for formulas and other visual aspects of paper. ‘Paper technology’ is used as a wider term for aspects of paper: Hess, Volker and Mendelsohn, J. Andrew, ‘Paper Technology und Wissensgeschichte’, NTM Zeitschrift für Geschichte der Wissenschaften, Technik und Medizin (2013) 21(1), pp. 110; Hess, and Mendelsohn, , ‘Case and series: medical knowledge and paper technology: 1600–1900’, History of Science (2010) 48, pp. 287–231; te Heesen, Anke, ‘The notebook: a paper-technology’, in [1845], Bristol: Latour, Philip Bruno and Weibel, Peter (eds.), Making Things Public: Atmospheres of Democracy, Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2005, pp. 582589. For filing see, for example, Lemov, Rebecca, ‘Filing the total human: anthropological archives from 1928 to 1963’, in Camic, Charles, Gross, Neil and Lamont, Michèle (eds.), Social Knowledge in the Making, Chicago and London: The University of Chicago Press, 2011, pp. 119150.

25 Interesting to All: Professor Sturoc, from the College of Edinburgh, n.p., n.d., UCLA Library Special Collections, Ms Coll. no 504.063. For more examples see Cooter, op. cit. (1), p. 353.

26 C. Townsend, Improved Phreno-chart: Containing a Survey of the Constitution, and an Estimate of the Various Powers of Mind, and Traits of the Character, of [W.O. Wyckoff] as given [21 January 1860] by C. Townsend, Examiner, n.p., James & Hopkins, 1859, UCLA Library Special Collections BF870.T747i 1859, no page number, original emphasis.

27 Brown, Ralph, A Delineation of the Character, Talents, Physiological Developments and Natural Adaptations of Mr [blank line], Melbourne: Mason, Firth & M'Cutcheon, 1884, UCLA Library Special Collections, BF871.B879d 1884, p. 2.

28 [?] Hertig, A Phreno-organic Chart: For Recording Constitutional Conditions and Forces, Mental Developments and Characteristics by Prof. Hertig, Lecturer on Phrenology, Physiology, Physiognomy, Sexual Science, Love, Courtship, Matrimony, etc., n.p., 1902, UCLA Library Special Collections, BF871.H574p 1902.

29 William and Lilla Windsor, Phrenological Chart and Written Delineation of Character, published by the author, 1889, completed for S.L. Neblett, given at Waco, Texas, 8 November 1890, UCLA Library Special Collections, no inv. no, no page numbers.

30 See, for example, Fowler, Orson, Self-Culture, and Perfection of Character: Including the Management of Youth, New York: Fowler's and Wells', 1853, p. iv.

31 Stephen Tracht, Stephen Tracht's Self-Instructor in Phrenology: With Descriptions of Organs; Illustrated; also Prepared for Practical Phrenologists, n.p., c.1907, UCLA Library Special Collections, BF871.T759s 1905, pp. 11–12.

32 See, for example, Lyons, op. cit. (1), pp. 51–86.

33 See, for example, Branson, Susan, ‘Phrenology and the science of race in antebellum America’, Early American Studies: An Interdisciplinary Journal (2017) 15(1), pp. 164193.

34 Delbourgo, James and Müller-Wille, Staffan, ‘Introduction’, Isis, special issue on ‘listmania’ (1012) 103, pp. 710715.

35 Latour, Bruno, ‘Visualisation and cognition: drawing things together’, in Kuklick, Henrika (ed.), Knowledge and Society: Studies in the Sociology of Culture Past and Present, vol. 6, London: Jai Press, 1986, pp. 140; and Burri, Regula V. and Dumit, Joseph, ‘Social studies of scientific imaging and visualisation’, in Hackett, Edward, Amsterdamska, Olga, Lynch, Michael E. and Wajcman, Judy (eds.), The Handbook of Science and Technology Studies, Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2007, pp. 297317, 297. See, for a recent example, Nelson, Alondra, ‘Bio science: genetic genealogy testing and the pursuit of African ancestry’, Social Studies of Science (2008) 38(5), pp. 759783.

36 Phrenological Chart: In Which Is Set Forth the Character and Talents of [Mr HC Smith] Given by Dr. R. Dilks, no publisher, completed 24 September 1853, UCLA Library Special Collections, Ms Coll. no 504.405.

37 Fowler, Orson, ‘Practical phrenology defended’, American Phrenological Journal and Miscellany (1841) 3, pp. 567574, 567; and Sizer, Nelson, Forty Years in Phrenology: Embracing Recollections of History, Anecdote, and Experience, New York: Fowler & Wells, 1891, 15.

38 Fowler, Orson, Phrenological Chart: Presenting a Synopsis of the Science of Phrenology, Baltimore: J.W. Woods, 1836, Library of Congress, Washington, DC, BF879.F78; and Fowler, Synopsis of Phrenology and the Phrenological Developments, Together with the Character and Talents of [Dr Asa Fitch] as Given by [John Salter], Philadelphia: Fowler and Brevoort, 1838, US National Library of Medicine, Bethesda, MD, 60230730R. Two other charts in which the scores are written in the margins are Synopsis of Phrenology and the Phrenological Developments: Together with the Character and Talents of [E.M. Dickinson] as Given by [N. Sizer] 11 Oct 1849, New York: Fowlers and Wells, 1849, UCLA Library Special Collections, BF870 F787s 1849; and Chart of the Phrenological Developments of [Charles S. Cowie[Collie?]] as Given by [Prof. W. Sied], New York: Wells & Co., 1880, UCLA Library Special Collections BF871.C486 1880.

39 Clother Gifford, New Phrenological Chart by Clother Gifford and an Analysis of [Octavia A.Y. Norris], Character, Examined by [C.G. 7 September 1841], UCLA Library Special Collections, no inv. no; and Alfred Woodward, Developments of [Mr. Joseph Smith jr's] Head, 14 January 1840, Philadelphia. See www.josephsmithpapers.org/paperSummary/phrenology-chart-14-january-1840-b.

40 One of the earliest charts from the UK also includes a table: Phrenological Chart Taken by Mr. A.S. Hamilton, Practical Phrenologist, 19, West Strand, London: Cerebral Development of [Mr Bennett Junr], Canonbury, Islington: Grubbs, 1845, UCLA Library Special Collections, Ms Coll. no 504.081.

41 Enos Stevens, Rudiments of Mental Philosophy, and Phrenological Chart of [Redmond Conyngham], [Nov 5th 1842], Lampeter: Henry Miller Jr, UCLA Library Special Collections, BF870.S944r 1839.

42 Orson Fowler and Lorenzo Fowler, New Illustrated Self-Instructor in Phrenology and Physiology: With over One Hundred Engravings; Together with the Chart and Character of [blank line] as Marked by [blank line], New York: Fowler & Wells, 1876, p. 38.

43 Joseph Millott Severn, Popular Phrenology, UCLA Library Special Collections, BF871.S498po 1918, p. 28.

44 Thomas Timson, The Self-Instructor and Phrenological Chart: Being a Delineation of Character, Talents, Health, Physical Development and Present Condition of Name … Date … As Given by Prof. T. Timson, Leicester, n.d., UCLA Library Special Collections BF871.T586s 1898, 17; and Prof. J.A. Houser's Chart of the Phrenological Developments of [C. C. Knauer [?], July [?] 9, 1882] as given by [Prof. Moore] J.A. Houser, M.D., Arcadia, IN: J.A. Houser, 1878, UCLA Library Special Collections, BF871.H842p 1878, p. 4.

45 Olin, op. cit. (19), p. 56. See also BF851 R287 1903: Reading Character from the Head; Or, the Success, Power and Ability of Man as Read from His Head: A Thorough and Practical Course of Instructions, New York: American Society of Scientific Research, c.1903, p. 31.

46 Human Nature Explained: A New Illustrated Treatise on Human Science for the People by N.N. Riddell; as Assisted by Louise E. Francis, New York, Riddell & Francis, 1895, UCLA Library Special Collections 307.BF871.R543h 1895, p. 307.

47 The Phrenological & Physiological Register: With Chart Describing the Phrenological Developments of Mr [R.A. Price] as Given by [Professor Bourne], date [July 1929], n.p., UCLA Library Special Collections BF871.P576 1929.

48 Messrs Kidd & Murphy's Phrenological Chart, n.p., c.1850, UCLA Library Special Collections, no inv. no.

49 Sokal, Michael, ‘Practical phrenology as psychological counseling in the 19th-century United States’, in Green, Christopher D., Shore, Marlene and Teo, Thomas (eds.), The Transformation of Psychology: Influences of 19th-Century Philosophy, Technology, and Natural Science, Washington, DC: American Psychological Association, 2001, pp. 2144.

50 Gitelman, Lisa, Paper Knowledge: Towards a Media History of Documents, Durham, NC and London: Duke University Press, 2014, p. 5.

51 Orson Fowler and Lorenzo Fowler, The Illustrated Self-Instructor in Phrenology and Physiology: with One Hundred Engravings and a Chart of the Character … as Given by …, New York: Fowlers and Wells, several editions between c.1840 and 1859; and Fowler and Fowler, New Illustrated Self-Instructor in Phrenology and Physiology: With over One Hundred Engravings; Together with the Chart and Character of … as Marked by …, New York: Fowler & Wells, several editions after c.1859.

52 See, for example, Stackpool E. O'Dell and Catherine Stackpool E. O'Dell, A Phrenological Chart of Character: (with Supplementary Tables), London: The London Phrenological Institution, n.d., UCLA Library Special Collections WB 365 O23p 1908, WB 365 O23p 1913 and WB 365 O23p 1918.

53 Messrs Kidd & Murphy's Phrenological Chart (c.1850), UCLA Library Special Collections, no inv. no.

54 Phrenological Chart: In Which Is Set Forth the Character and Talents of [Mr HC Smith] Given by Dr. R. Dilks, no publisher, completed 24 September 1853, UCLA Library Special Collections, Ms Coll. no 504.405.

55 Harpel, Oscar H., Harpel's Typograph, or Book of Specimens, Containing Useful Information and a Collection of Examples of Letterpress Job Printing, arranged for the Assistance of Master Printers, Amateurs, Apprentices, and Others, Cincinnati, OH: Harpel, 1870. For an analysis of Harpel's book see Gitelman, op. cit. (50), pp. 38–52.

56 For psychological testing see Rose, Inventing Ourselves, op. cit. (8), pp. 89–90.

57 Kevles, Daniel J., In the Name of Eugenics: Genetics and the Uses of Human Heredity, Los Angeles and Berkeley: University of California Press, 1985, p. 6.

58 Lundgren, Frans, ‘The politics of participation: Francis Galton's Anthropometric Laboratory and the making of civic selves’, BJHS (2013) 46(3), pp. 445466, 445.

59 For performance and the history of science see Morus, Iwan R., ‘Placing performance’, Isis (2010) 101, pp. 775778.

60 Bittel, op. cit. (14), p. 105.

61 Tope, Melancthon, Tope's Newly Revised Practical Phrenological Chart, Bowerstone, OH: M. Tope, 1933, p. 81, UCLA Library Special Collections BF871.T673t 1933, original emphasis.

62 Bridges, Frederick, Phrenology made Practical and Popularly Explained, London: Sampson Low, 1857, p. 6.

63 Fowler, Orson and Fowler, Lorenzo, New Illustrated Self-Instructor in Phrenology and Physiology: With over One Hundred Engravings; Together with the Chart and Character of … as Marked by …, New York: S.R. Wells, c. 1859, p. vii.

64 For engravings of the head see (among many others), Philemon Sohier, Phrenological Developments, Together with the Character and Talents of … by the Phrenologist: Sohier, completed 9 February 1860, Wellcome Library, London, EPH+37.

65 Tracht, op. cit. (31), p. 13.

66 Orson Fowler and Lorenzo Fowler, The Illustrated Self-Instructor in Phrenology and Physiology: With One Hundred Engravings and a Chart of the Character of [S.S. Kimball] as Given by [N. Sizer, 21 April 1855], UCLA Library Special Collections, BF870.F787i 1855, 128. Charles Olin also described how the finger should follow lines on the head. Olin, op. cit. (19), p. 55.

67 Stevens, op. cit. (41).

68 Coates, James, How to Read Heads; Or, Practical Lessons on the Application of Phrenology to the Reading of Character, London: Simpkin et al., 1891, 27.

69 A Phrenological Chart of Character: (with Supplementary Tables) by Stackpool E. O'Dell & Mrs. Stackpool E. O'Dell, London: The London Phrenological Institution, 1879. Completed for Mr Davis, 18 February, UCLA Library Special Collections 1935WB 365 O23p 1931.

70 Human Nature Explained: A New Illustrated Treatise on Human Science for the People by N.N. Riddell; as Assisted by Louise E. Francis, New York: Riddell & Francis 1895, UCLA Library Special Collections BF871.R543h 1895, p. 2 of the descriptive chart at the back.

71 Cohen, Patricia, A Calculating People: The Spread of Numeracy in Early America, Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 1982.

72 Tope, op. cit. (61), p. 5.

73 Van Wyhe, op. cit. (11).

74 Robinson, Nugent, Evenings at Home: How to Spend Them, New York: Collier, 1891, pp. 346361.

75 Bittel, op. cit. (14), p. 118.

76 Orson Fowler and Lorenzo Fowler, New Illustrated Self-Instructor in Phrenology and Physiology: With over One Hundred Engravings; Together with the Chart and Character of [blank line] as Marked by [blank line], New York: Fowler & Wells, n.d., UCLA Library Special Collections BF870.F787i 1859b, copy 1, for this example see p. 13.

77 Cowan, John, Self-Help: In the Attainment of Perfection of Character and Success in Life, with a Phrenological & Physiological Chart of the Character of [Henry S. Prentiss] as Given by [H.E. Swain, 6 March 1880, Princeton College], New York: Cowan & Company, 1880, UCLA Library Special Collections BF871.C874s 1880.

78 ‘Obituary’, The Times, 19 February 1944, p. 6.

79 L. Dudley Stamp, ‘Phrenology’, The Times, 6 March 1958, p. 11.

I would like to thank Charlotte Sleigh, the two anonymous referees and colleagues at the History of Science Society Annual Meeting and at the Cultural History Seminar at the University of Utrecht where I presented earlier versions of this paper. Special thanks are owed to Teresa Johnson and Russell Johnson of the UCLA Library Special Collections for Medicine and the Sciences. Research for this article was supported by the Netherlands Organisation for Scientific Research (275-69-008).

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