Collecting bodies: the early history of physical anthropology (great resources)

Researching for my project on the early history of the Romanian (physical) anthropology, I’ve come across several captivating projects and researchers. Beyond a historiographical interest, such resources are truly entertaining and they reveal the mind and material universe of our early colleagues. Some of their methods and questions are still in use, some world views have long gone (thanks God we do stopped defining populations by cranial shape- all those names to learn! brachycephalic/dolycocephalic/mediteranoid/dinaric etc. skulls), but all allow us (osteoarchaeologists and archaeologists alike) to better understand how our methods came into being (and how the perspective pf the human body was shaped in the process).

So here they are (not an extensive list by far, just some work in progress):

◊ the books of Cressida Fforde: Collecting the Dead: Archaeology and the Reburial Issue (2004)

◊ the works of Elizabeth Hallam (Research Associate in the School of Anthropology and Museum Ethnography, University of Oxford, and a Senior Research Fellow in the Department of Anthropology at the University of Aberdeen): “Anthropology of the body; death and dying; material and visual culture; museums and collecting; anthropology of anatomy, anatomical models; making and design; history and anthropology

◊ the studies of Samuel Alberti (the Director of Museums and Archives at the Royal College of Surgeons of England), tackiling the history of medical and natural history collections. e.g. Morbid Curiosities: Medical Museums in Nineteenth-Century Britain (2011)

Ann Fabian: The Skull Collectors: Race, Science, and America’s Unburied Dead (2010)

Marieke Hendriksen, a historian of medicine from Utrecht University, interested in the material culture of eighteenth-century chemistry and medicine:

Robert D. Hicks (Director of Mutter Museum): see an interview here (and a photo with his pet leeches)

James Poskett (PhD candidate Cambridge University) focusing on the history of phrenology: Skulls in print: scientific racism in the transatlantic world  (check his website too:

◊ the articles of Simon Chaplin (former Director of Museums and Special Collections at The Royal College of Surgeons of England, working on the Hunterian Museum collection; head of Wellcome Trust library)

Marius Turda (Deputy Director, The Centre for Health, Medicine and Society, Oxford Brookes University): “history of eugenics, anthropology,racism and biopolitics from around 1800 to 1945, with a particular emphasis on Central and Southeastern Europe”

Dittrick Museum blog:

The History of Medicine Museum in Past and Present: a collection of podcasts of several conference papers on the history of medical and anthropological collections

Rudolf Martin (1914)
Source: Rudolf Martin (1914)




7 thoughts on “Collecting bodies: the early history of physical anthropology (great resources)

      1. Yes, please do 🙂 I know that feeling, personally I just do not know where to look sometimes then you find a piece or an article of interest and it leads to all of these other researchers or organisations that I hadn’t even been aware of! It is a great feeling but also makes you realise how many researchers there are!

      2. Indeed! and there are also some in Austria, Italy, Hungary, Sweden etc. which do not publish on-line/in English and it’s so hard to hear about them! (not that I came from a mainstream country, but you know what I mean). Here are 2 more examples: and Maybe what is needed is a european conference on the history of physical anthropology 🙂

      3. Yes, agree with that! Ah you know that is something I also think about blogging – I wonder how many sites are missed because they do not write in English and the major journals are mostly in English (with reference to articles looking at the archaeology/bioarch ‘blogospere’).

        Read an interview by Joann Fletcher who mentions that she’d love to investigate the Chinese mummies but all the articles and research is produced in Mandarin or Cantonese, and thus not possible to read.

        Thanks for the examples!

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