Chapter

Introduction Ghosts of the Unburied Dead

in The Skull Collectors

Published by University of Chicago Press

Published in print October 2010 | ISBN: 9780226233482
Published online March 2013 | e-ISBN: 9780226233499 | DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.7208/chicago/9780226233499.003.0001
Introduction Ghosts of the Unburied Dead

Show Summary Details

Preview

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. This book 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, it paints a 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 the book recreates the past, it also 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.

Keywords: Samuel George Morton; skull; battlefields; burial grounds; racial difference; grave robbing; scientific inquiry; racial superiority

Chapter.  2508 words. 

Subjects: History of the Americas

Full text: subscription required

How to subscribe Recommend to my Librarian

Users without a subscription are not able to see the full content. Please, subscribe or login to access all content.