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Reading colonial photography: the publication and reception of A Phrenologist Amongst the Todas (1873)

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This talk follows phrenological photographs as they travelled back and forth across the imperial world. As a case study, I take the series of photographs featured in William Elliot Marshall’s A Phrenologist Amongst the Todas (1873). The nineteen photographs in this book were originally taken in the Nilgiri Hills, in southern India. Together, the photographs and text document the phrenology of the Todas, a pastoral hill tribe living in the Nilgiris. Marshall’s book circulated widely. It was read by many of the most influential evolutionary and anthropological thinkers of the late nineteenth century including Charles Darwin, E.B. Tylor, Jean Louis Armand de Quatrefages and W.H.R. Rivers. To date, historians have treated photography in India as relatively disconnected from the wider world. But as I argue in this talk, the history of photography in India needs to be understood, like the history of colonial photography more generally, as part of a global history of material exchange. It was through circulation and reception that photography and phrenology became intertwined with evolutionary thought and colonial power.

This talk is part of the Cabinet of Natural History series.

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