Archives & Special Collections Gallery Exhibit




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Creation Date

Fall 2014


Artifact Label:


Phrenology focuses on the brain as an indicator of one’s inner character. It claims that the brain dictates the shape of the skull and, thus, the shape of the skull reveals one’s true self. Learning about oneself through a phrenological reading means that one can identify his or her strengths and flaws and, in response, make deliberate personal improvements.


Physiognomy has, in various forms, been present since at least 500 B.C.E. In the 18th and early 19th centuries, physiognomy was reintroduced and informed by Swiss pastor and writer, Johann Kaspar Lavater (1741–1801). During the Age of Enlightenment, a period in which science and reason were greatly emphasized, Lavater’s work was perceived as providing an objective taxonomy or a catalog of human character. Interestingly, Lavater’s work, which focused on the aesthetics of the face, also lent itself well to contemporary artistic movements, most notably Romanticism.