Phrenology Essay, Research Paper
“Before phrenology all we knew about the brain was, how to slice it” — Richard Chenevix, 1828 (Victorian Web). Phrenology was a popular pseudoscience that was founded by Franz Gall. He believed that by examining the bumps on a person’s skull, you could determine ones personality characteristics, moral characteristics, and intelligence. Notions such as, are people with large foreheads smarter than people with small foreheads, were at the core of phrenology. This is what led me to pick this topic for this paper. I have always been told I have a large forehead, so I found this topic interesting. By going to hospitals, prisons, and schools Gall gathered evidence to try and support phrenology. By doing this he identified 27 personality characteristics that he believed could be diagnosed by examining areas of the head. He devised maps of the showing the location on the skull of different personality characteristics and abilities. He believed that a large forehead was associated with ones higher intelligence. Gall took his ideas to the general public when his theories started to be ridiculed by other scientists. He began to give “readings” in which he described ones personality based on measuring the bumps on a person’s head.
Since the mid- nineteenth century, phrenology has been almost completely discredited. Even when it was most popular between the 1830s and 1840s, phrenology was very controversial. It never became an accredited science. Phrenology did become a formalized social activity, which started in Britain. George & Andrew Combe, David Welsh, James Brownlee, William Waddel, and Lindsey Mackersey founded the first phrenological society in 1820. In 1822 George Combe starts to lecture about phrenology in Edinburgh. Also in 1822, the first phrenological society in America was established in Philadelphia. In 1823 John Elliotson, B. Donkin, and J. DeVille founded the London Phrenological society in London. In December of 1823 the Phrenological Journal (of Edinburgh) was founded. This was the first journal of phrenology. Phrenologists portrayed themselves as Galileo- like defenders of natural truth. They spent a lot of time defending themselves from criticism. Religious and close-minded people condemned them. Many political and social reformers preferred phrenology. They looked at it as a reformist or radical science. Many devote evangelicals found phrenology interesting. There were a few Christian phrenological societies founded. Phrenologists during this time paved the way for the beginnings of nineteenth century scientific naturalism.
The science spread to America and France and was reintroduced in the German states in the 1830s and 1840s. It died in Britain by the early 1850s. In the 1860s the American Fowler brothers introduced a new movement. Remnants are still seen today from this later movement of phrenology. This latter movement by the Fowler brothers was responsible for the head reading craze the started in the late nineteenth century. Phrenology also became well known for its anthropological/racial concerns.
Even though phrenology never gained the status of an accredited science, it has been absorbed into many other practices. Franz Gall may have been wrong about the bumps on our skulls, but he and other phrenologists were right about different functions are localized in different parts of the brain.