“Why do we measure mankind?” Marketing anthropometry in late-Victorian Britain

AHP readers may be interested in a new article on anthropometry in History of Science. Full details below.

“Why do we measure mankind?” Marketing anthropometry in late-Victorian Britain,” by Elise Smith. Abstract:

In the late nineteenth century, British anthropometrists attempted to normalize the practice of measuring bodies as they sought to collate data about the health and racial makeup of their fellow citizens. As the country’s leading anthropometrists, Francis Galton and Charles Roberts worked to overcome suspicion about their motives and tried to establish the value of recording physical dimensions from their subjects’ perspective. For Galton, the father of the eugenics movement, the attainment of objective self-knowledge figured alongside the ranking of one’s physique and faculties against established norms. The competitive tests at Galton’s anthropometric laboratory were meant to help subjects identify their strengths and weaknesses, ultimately revealing their level of eugenic fitness. Roberts, on the other hand, saw the particular value of anthropometric data in informing economic and social policy, but capitalized on parents’ interest in their children’s growth rates to encourage regular monitoring of their physical development. While both Galton and Roberts hoped that individuals would ultimately furnish experts with their anthropometric data to analyze, they both understood that the public would need to have explained the practical purposes of such studies and to familiarize themselves with their methods. This article argues that while anthropometry did not become a fully domestic practice in this period, it became a more visible one, paving the way for individuals to take an interest in metrical evaluations of their bodies in the coming years.

About Jacy Young

Jacy Young is a professor at Quest University Canada. A critical feminist psychologist and historian of psychology, she is committed to critical pedagogy and public engagement with feminist psychology and the history of the discipline.