The Global Phenomenon of Phrenology A Conversation with James Poskett

In this podcast episode, we talk with James Poskett, author of Materials of the Mind: Phrenology, Race, and the Global History of Science, 1815-1920.

Phrenology was the most popular mental science of the Victorian age. From American senators to Indian social reformers, this new mental science found supporters around the globe. Materials of the Mind tells the story of how phrenology changed the world—and how the world changed phrenology.

This is a story of skulls from the Arctic, plaster casts from Haiti, books from Bengal, and letters from the Pacific. Drawing on far-flung museum and archival collections, and addressing sources in six different languages, Materials of the Mind is an impressively innovative account of science in the nineteenth century as part of global history. It shows how the circulation of material culture underpinned the emergence of a new materialist philosophy of the mind, while also demonstrating how a global approach to history can help us reassess issues such as race, technology, and politics today.

James Poskett is Assistant Professor in the History of Science and Technology at the University of Warwick.

Materials of the Mind: Phrenology, Race, and the Global History of Science, 1815-1920 (University of Chicago Press, 2019)

Donald Forsdyke on Theories of Aging, Informational Aspects of DNA, and England’s Pasteur

When messengers are not authors of messages they bear, they should not be praised for the novelty of ideas in the messages. Donald Forsdyke (Queen’s University, Canada) has made a case that certain accolades bestowed upon Peter Medawar and Erwin Schrödinger for their respective contributions to theories of aging and of informational aspects of DNA, should rightly be assigned to the Victorian polymath, Samuel Butler (see Biological Theory 15, 50-55). Forsdyke has extensive webpages on Samuel Butler, George Romanes, William Bateson and – of particular significance in light of COVID-19 – Romanes’ mentor, John Burdon Sanderson (1828-1905). The account in the 1860s of the rapidly spreading cattle plague (rinderpest) by “England’s Pasteur” was scrutinized by the politicians no less intently than they today scrutinize accounts of the rapidly spreading coronavirus. Visit the website.

Announcing the Newly Digitized Dr. Robert Matz Hospital Postcard Collection

The New York Academy of Medicine Library is very pleased to announce the launch of the Dr. Robert Matz Hospital Postcard Collection, a pilot digitization project that provides access to 118 hospital postcards from the five boroughs of New York City. Spearheaded by Dr. Robin Naughton, Senior Digital Program Manager, the collection offers a window into the history of hospitals in the New York area as well as some of the visitors to those hospitals. Many of the postcards have messages and postmarks, allowing the viewer to ascertain the time period when the cards were created. The Matz Collection can be viewed here.