The Skull Collectors: Race, Science, And America's Unburied Dead

Hardcover | October 15, 2010

byAnn Fabian

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When Philadelphia naturalist Samuel George Morton died in 1851, no one cut off his head, boiled away its flesh, and added his grinning skull to a collection of crania. It would have been strange, but perhaps fitting, had Morton’s skull wound up in a collector’s cabinet, for Morton himself had collected hundreds of skulls over the course of a long career. Friends, diplomats, doctors, soldiers, and fellow naturalists sent him skulls they gathered from battlefields and burial grounds across America and around the world.

With The Skull Collectors, eminent historian Ann Fabian resurrects that popular and scientific movement, telling the strange—and at times gruesome—story of Morton, his contemporaries, and their search for a scientific foundation for racial difference. From cranial measurements and museum shelves to heads on stakes, bloody battlefields, and the “rascally pleasure” of grave robbing, Fabian paints a lively picture of scientific inquiry in service of an agenda of racial superiority, and of a society coming to grips with both the deadly implications of manifest destiny and the mass slaughter of the Civil War. Even as she vividly recreates the past, Fabian also deftly traces the continuing implications of this history, from lingering traces of scientific racism to debates over the return of the remains of Native Americans that are held by museums to this day.


Full of anecdotes, oddities, and insights, The Skull Collectors takes readers on a darkly fascinating trip down a little-visited but surprisingly important byway of American history.

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When Philadelphia naturalist Samuel George Morton died in 1851, no one cut off his head, boiled away its flesh, and added his grinning skull to a collection of crania. It would have been strange, but perhaps fitting, had Morton’s skull wound up in a collector’s cabinet, for Morton himself had collected hundreds of skulls over the cours...

Ann Fabian is dean of humanities and professor of American studies and history at Rutgers University. She is the author of many books, including, most recently, The Unvarnished Truth: Personal Narratives in Nineteenth-Century America.

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Format:HardcoverDimensions:288 pages, 9 × 6 × 0.8 inPublished:October 15, 2010Publisher:University Of Chicago PressLanguage:English

The following ISBNs are associated with this title:

ISBN - 10:0226233480

ISBN - 13:9780226233482

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Extra Content

Table of Contents

Acknowledgments
Introduction: Ghosts of the Unburied Dead

1 “The Promise of a Fine Skull”
2 A Native among the Headhunters
Crania Americana
4 “News from the Feegees”
5 The Unburied Dead

Epilogue: Brains, Bones, and Graves
Notes
Index

Editorial Reviews

“Fabian provides the reader a firm understanding of the history of American physical anthropology during the nineteenth century, serving as an excellent reminder of how far methodologies have come since then. . . . This volume is an excellent contribution to growing literature in the early physical anthropological praxis.”