Race: Is It All In The Head? The Perspectives of Samuel George Morton

Faculty Mentor(s)

Dr. Jeanne Petit, Hope College

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A craniologist from Pennsylvania, Samuel George Morton measured various aspects of skulls from ethnicities across the globe. This study focuses on two of his books: Crania Americana, published in 1839, and Crania Aegyptiaca, published in 1844. In them, he argued that from the start of time each race came from a separate origin (polygenism). This argument was in-opposition to Christian defenders of slavery who believed all people originated from Adam and Eve (monogenism). His first book divides humans into five races and gave what he saw as empirical data that Caucasians were superior to all other races due to their greater skull volume. Morton placed Blacks on the same pedestal as animals, and believed that the institution of slavery kept them in their place. In his second book, he examined ancient Egypt to prove that these hierarchies have been in place since the beginning of time and that even in ancient civilizations blacks worked as slaves. His studies created a racial caste that made races separate and not equal, and any race that was not Caucasian had no hope of ever reaching the most superior standard. His experiments quieted the debate between monogenists and polygenists, and people went as far as reinterpreting the Bible to give a rationale for origin of separate races. He helped introduce scientific racism to America which contributed in the unequal treatment and racial harassment of African Americans throughout history.

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