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National types: the transatlantic publication and reception of Crania Americana (1839)

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Samuel George Morton’s Crania Americana (1839) is most often read as a foundational work for the ‘American school’ of 19th-century ethnography. In this paper, I challenge such a reading by demonstrating how transatlantic connections shaped both the publication and the reception of Morton’s work. In this lavish folio volume, complete with over seventy lithographic plates, Morton divides man into five races before linking these races to skull configuration. However, to date, there have been no histories which consider the relevance of Morton’s extensive correspondence with physicians, naturalists, and phrenologists in Britain, France, and Germany. Furthermore, there have been no studies which consider how Morton managed the reception of Crania Americana across the Atlantic Ocean, in Britain and Continental Europe. This paper resituates American ethnology within this transatlantic world, drawing on archival collections in Britain and the United States. More broadly, I demonstrate how the history of the book can be developed as we move beyond national contexts.

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

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