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.