Tag Archives: Francis Galton

Revisiting Francis Galton’s Anthropometry

AHP readers may be interested in a recent post by Efram Sera-Shriar on Dissertation Reviews that details his efforts to recreate the kind of anthropological – and more particularly anthropometric – data collection practices at use in the late-nineteenth century. Coming on the heels of his dissertation, Beyond the Armchair: Early Observational Practice and the Making of British Anthropology 1813-1871 (soon to be published as The Making of British Anthropology, 1813–1871), this project seeks to gather the same kind of data that was privileged by Victorian anthropologists, including Francis Galton (above).

As Sera-Shriar describes,

There is much to be gained by looking at the techniques utilized by nineteenth-century researchers …. I thought that it would be illuminating to attempt to recreate a Victorian research practice for acquiring anthropological data and see what kind of results it produces. There were many different kinds of methods to choose from but I decided that it would be interesting to write a kind of guidebook that seeks to collect descriptive information about different people (including photographs) from around the world. Now many of you will be thinking that such an experiment will generate all sorts of problems. After all, Victorian anthropologists were not known for their cultural sensitivity. To avoid exploiting or subjugating anyone, it is necessary to modernize certain aspects of this experiment. These changes are instructive because they bring to the fore some of the problems associated with Victorian anthropology. At the same time, however, by trying to utilize nineteenth-century research practices we can learn a lot about the strengths and weaknesses of these older methodologies. In a sense, this recreation is a kind of exercise in participant observation, allowing us to better understand — with limitations — the analytical processes of Victorian anthropologists.

Full details on Sera-Shriar’s project, and how you might contribute your own data to the project, can be found online here.

Physics in the Galtonian sciences of heredity

A forthcoming article in the journal Studies in History and Philosophy of Biological and Biomedical Sciences, now available online through advance access, tackles the influence of physics on Galtonian science. The piece, authored by Gregory Radick (left), investigates physics’s influence on three Galtonians: Francis Galton himself, as well as W. F. R. Weldon and William Bateson. Title, author, and abstract follow below.

“Physics in the Galtonian sciences of heredity,” by Gregory Radick

Physics matters less than we once thought to the making of Mendel. But it matters more than we tend to recognize to the making of Mendelism. This paper charts the variety of ways in which diverse kinds of physics impinged upon the Galtonian tradition which formed Mendelism’s matrix. The work of three Galtonians in particular is considered: Francis Galton himself, W. F. R. Weldon and William Bateson. One aim is to suggest that tracking influence from physics can bring into focus important but now little-remembered flexibilities in the Galtonian tradition. Another is to show by example why generalizations about what happens when ‘physics’ meets ‘biology’ require caution. Even for a single research tradition in Britain in the decades around 1900, these categories were large, containing multitudes.