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PHRENOLOGY, CORRESPONDENCE, AND THE GLOBAL POLITICS OF REFORM, 1815–1848*

  • JAMES POSKETT (a1)
Abstract
ABSTRACT

Like many nineteenth-century sciences, phrenology had global aspirations. Skulls were collected in Egypt and Ceylon, societies exchanged journals between India and the United States, and phrenological bestsellers were sold in Shanghai and Tokyo. Despite this wealth of interaction, existing accounts treat phrenology within neat national and urban settings. In contrast, this article examines phrenology as a global political project. During an age in which character dominated public discourse, phrenology emerged as a powerful political language. In this article, I examine the role that correspondence played in establishing material connections between phrenologists and their political concerns, ranging from the abolition of slavery to the reform of prison discipline. Two overarching arguments run throughout my case-studies. First, phrenologists used correspondence to establish reform as a global project. Second, phrenology allowed reformers to present their arguments in terms of a new understanding of human character. More broadly, this article connects political thought with the global history of science.

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Darwin College, University of Cambridge, Silver Street, Cambridge, cb3 9eu jdgp2@cam.ac.uk
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*

Janet Browne, Simon Schaffer, Jim Secord, Sujit Sivasundaram, Alice Poskett, and three anonymous referees all provided invaluable feedback on earlier drafts of this article. I would like to thank the Master and Fellows of both Trinity College and Darwin College at the University of Cambridge for supporting my research, first under the Tarner Studentship and then as the Adrian Research Fellow. The British Society for the History of Science and the Countway Library of Medicine at Harvard University provided additional funding for archival work in Scotland and the United States respectively, for which I am most grateful.

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This list contains references from the content that can be linked to their source. For a full set of references and notes please see the PDF or HTML where available.

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The Historical Journal
  • ISSN: 0018-246X
  • EISSN: 1469-5103
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