The Phrenology Head

20 Aug

Over the weekend, my wife was shopping, and I was wandering around the store. Suddenly, I saw it. Without hesitation, I picked it up and took it to the shopping cart. It was something that I had to have. It was a Phrenology Head.image-50

My wife immediately asked what I was going to do with it and breathed a sigh of relief when I said that I was taking it to work. I thought it would look interesting in my office and be a conversation piece. I was not wrong.

When my stepdaughter saw it, she asked what it was. I said it was a head. When I was unlocking my office door, my colleague asked what I had. I said it was a Phrenology Head. That means that most of the people who have seen it have made a comment about it. That is the definition of a conversation piece. Hopefully, my students will talk about the Phrenology Head when I take it to class.

That is the other reason I bought it. In the first semester of United States history, I talk about Phrenology and other such things from our past. In essence, it was the study of the human head. Practitioners would measure skulls and search for bumps and indentions. Different parts of the skull represented different parts of the brain. On top of that, each part of the brain controlled a different aspect of that person. A bumpy, indented skull meant one thing. A smooth skull meant another.

It was all very scientific.

My students laugh when we talk about Phrenology, and they will probably laugh when they see the Phrenology Head. However, it was serious business. The research was used to justify European superiority over other people. If you have ever seen the dining room scene in Django Unchained, then you know what I mean.

There is a Phrenology Head sitting on my desk, and I am waiting for the first student to walk into my office. Hopefully, they will ask about it. If not, then they are probably being polite to the crazy teacher who has this strange head. Of course, I am talking about the Phrenology Head. Although, I wonder what information a Phrenological study would get from my cranium.

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11 Responses to “The Phrenology Head”

  1. Cindy Bruchman August 20, 2015 at 01:50 #

    Very cool. The U.S. Sanitary Commission conducted experiments to set up a ethnic/racial hierarchy. Crazy.

    • Rick August 20, 2015 at 02:18 #

      I know. People tend to find ways to justify things like that.

  2. Bec J. H. August 20, 2015 at 05:29 #

    As a linguist, one of the areas I study a lot is phonology. You would be amazed at the number of people who say “Phrenology? Isn’t that measuring heads?” when I mention it…

    • Rick August 20, 2015 at 11:57 #

      I’m surprised people have heard the word. At least, that gives you the opportunity to explain what it is. Thanks for reading and for commenting.

    • Lunar Euphoria August 20, 2015 at 12:29 #

      Fellow phonologist here, though I’ve never had the topic mistaken for phrenology myself. A shame, that.

      Rick, I must admit I’m envious of your head. I collect heads with the enthusiasm of a witch doctor. I have decoupaged several. Others have wound up as hypertupha planters. I do not have a phrenology head though. Yet…

      • Rick August 20, 2015 at 14:27 #

        You should put together a head post with photos. Do you have any shrunken heads?

  3. Lunar Euphoria August 20, 2015 at 20:21 #

    I recall writing a post about my heads years ago, but I can’t find it. I did find a few photos I’ve posted. Here are the links:




  4. Lunar Euphoria August 20, 2015 at 20:22 #

    Yikes! I thought those would translate as links, not the actual photos….Didn’t mean to hijack your comments section. Just delete if that’s too much!

    • Rick August 21, 2015 at 01:34 #

      Actually, nothing came through on the comment. Perhaps the Phrenology Head scared them away.

  5. jcalberta August 20, 2015 at 22:09 #

    I know nothing about this. Though I figure there’s probably somebody who’s actually good good at that. Another lost art?

    • Rick August 21, 2015 at 01:35 #

      It is a lost something. I’m not sure I would call it art.

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