Cloth $45.00 ISBN: 9780226626758 Published April 2019
E-book $10.00 to $45.00 About E-books ISBN: 9780226626895 Published April 2019 Also Available From

Materials of the Mind

Phrenology, Race, and the Global History of Science, 1815-1920

James Poskett

Materials of the Mind

James Poskett

Publication supported by the Neil Harris Endowment Fund

373 pages | 47 halftones | 6 x 9 | © 2019
Cloth $45.00 ISBN: 9780226626758 Published April 2019
E-book $10.00 to $45.00 About E-books ISBN: 9780226626895 Published April 2019
Phrenology was the most popular mental science of the Victorian age. From American senators to Indian social reformers, this new mental science found supporters around the globe. Materials of the Mind tells the story of how phrenology changed the world—and how the world changed phrenology.
 
This is a story of skulls from the Arctic, plaster casts from Haiti, books from Bengal, and letters from the Pacific. Drawing on far-flung museum and archival collections, and addressing sources in six different languages, Materials of the Mind is an impressively innovative account of science in the nineteenth century as part of global history. It shows how the circulation of material culture underpinned the emergence of a new materialist philosophy of the mind, while also demonstrating how a global approach to history can help us reassess issues such as race, technology, and politics today.
Contents
Introduction
1. Skulls
2. Casts
3. Books
4. Letters
5. Periodicals
6. Photographs
Epilogue
 
List of Figures
Acknowledgments
Notes
Bibliography
Index
Review Quotes
Wall Street Journal
"One of the many merits of Mr. Poskett's book is that it rejects the standard view of phrenology as something that was almost accidentally invented in Europe and then came to flourish in the therapy-obsessed United States. Instead, Mr. Poskett paints the picture of a globe crisscrossed by phrenological exhibits and ephemera."
Journal of the History of the Neurosciences
"For those readers looking for an entirely new approach to the once-faddish pseudoscience of phrenology, [Poskett] presents just such an addition . . . . With engaging writing, many illustrations, and extensive references for historians, there is much to recommend in Materials of Mind, a scholarly and uniquely social approach to the phrenological movement. . . . A fascinating subject that should appeal to more than just specialists interested in phrenology or, more generally, the history of science."
CHOICE
"In Materials of the Mind, [Poskett] studies the discredited 19th-century 'science' of phrenology. . . . [He] covers his subject in chapters on skulls, casts, books, letters, periodicals, and photographs. . . . Recommended."
Journal of the History of the Behavioral Sciences
"Taking place on a thoroughly globalized stage, highlighted by tragedies both banal and spectacular, and populated by a host of actors well and lesser known, Poskett's history transforms phrenology's status from that of scientific footnote to one of near‐Shakespearian significance. . . . Poskett has written an important book. In it, he demonstrates how scientific actors the world over use and are used by competing and complementary racial agendas. And in doing so, Poskett effectively spotlights much that has been consigned to science's darker corners. His stage is a contested one. His script was simultaneously familiar and strange. And his actors? As epistemological and transactional subjects and objects, Poskett's phrenological entities are compelling, disturbing, and eminently familiar. They are, after all, the unembraced forefathers and mothers of today's human scientists."
British Journal for the History of Science
"[An] insightful and richly illustrated book. . . . An important milestone."
Journal of British Studies
"It is perhaps unsurprising that phrenology already occupies a fairly well-explored area in the history of science. This valuable and engaging book, however, breaks new scholarly ground. James Poskett uses the material cultures of phrenology—such as skulls, letters, and photography—to generate an interconnected transnational history that transforms a familiar pseudoscience into a complex and multifaceted global process. As it examines phrenology’s many global pathways, interchanges and permutations, Materials of the Mind remains attuned to power but explicitly works against the constraints imposed by units of analysis such as nations and empires, offering instead a materially based and iterative model for a global history of science. As a global history, this work offers a wide-ranging and erudite analysis of how transnational flows of material and material cultures shaped phrenology. . . . Every chapter of this book is distinguished by impressive archival work across many collections in numerous global locations and languages. Detail, references, and illustrations abound, supporting Poskett’s fundamental commitment to exploring material culture’s role in shaping a global history of science. . . . As both an exploration of phrenology specifically and as a scholarly work interested in advancing the question of what it means to write a global history of science, Materials of the Mind comes out ahead."
New York Society Library
"Today we can laugh at the idea that our personalities and attributes can be measured by the bumps on our heads, but phrenology was the most widely practiced mind science of the Victorian era. . . . Not just a fascination in Europe and America, Poskett show the wide reach of the 'science' through its objects and ephemera—skulls and charts and books and the like—travelled the globe and found receptive audiences wherever they landed."
Alison Bashford, author of Global Population: History, Geopolitics, and Life on Earth
"An exemplary history of objects, this book is also a global history of the mind. Poskett clarifies the material culture through which ideas about phrenology--and materialism itself--translated and travelled across continents and languages. The freshest history of the strangest science."
Sujit Sivasundaram, University of Cambridge
"In this ambitious and riveting book, James Poskett tracks the global in so many senses: as a category among phrenologists who were concerned with the scales and spaces of work and with the nature of comparison and racial imagination; as a physical possibility among those who transferred skulls, letters, printed text, and casts; as a lumpy and uneven set of links across the span of the world; and finally, as a way in which we talk about our present moment in the historiography of the sciences. It is precisely because Poskett combines all of this globular talk, and because phrenology is such a good discipline with which to range across these globals, that Materials of the Mind should be vital reading on some of the most urgent concerns facing the world history of science."
Janet Browne, Harvard University
"This terrific book explores the global turn in the Victorian science of phrenology and sets the topic firmly inside the expanding imperial and racial concepts of the day. It shows how the ideas and objects associated with the popular activity of measuring heads circulated across the globe while making a substantial contribution to understanding the universalizing properties of science and technology in history."
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