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The practice of phrenology, or the study of bumps on the skull to predict mental and character traits, began in Germany and spread to the rest of Europe and the United States in the nineteenth century. Illustrated self-instructors, such as those published by American brothers Lorenzo Niles Fowler and Orson Squires Fowler, taught people how to conduct phrenological examinations without formal training. Now considered a pseudoscience, phrenology was often used to justify racism, sexism, and classism, and was dismissed by many scholars even at the height of its popularity. 

The Constitution of Man Considered in Relation to External Objects

George Combe (1788-1858)

The Constitution of Man Considered in Relation to External Objects

Boston: Carter and Hendee, 1829

George Combe founded the Edinburgh Phrenological Society in 1820 and was a leader of the phrenological movement for more than 20 years. He asserted that the human mind is best understood through phrenology, and that “mental qualities are determined by the size, form and constitution of the brain.” 

Ticknor and Fields Imprint Collection, Rare Book Collection

Rare Book Collection Ticknor BF870 .C6 1826

The Illustrated Self-instructor in Phrenology and Physiology

O. S. Fowler (1809-1887) and L. N. Fowler

The Illustrated Self-instructor in Phrenology and Physiology 

New York: Fowlers and Wells, 1850 

Brothers L. N. Fowler and O. S. Fowler were leading American phrenologists. Illustrated “self-instructors” were used to learn about phrenology and to chart the character of another person without formal training. The book includes tables used to record information about the person being examined.  

Benson Reid Wilcox Rare Book Endowment

Rare Book Collection Health Sciences History BF 870 F787i 1850

Creative and Sexual Science

O. S. Fowler (1809-1887)

Creative and Sexual Science: Or, Manhood, womanhood, and Their Mutual Interrelations 

Philadelphia: The National Pub. Co., [circa 1875] 

Phrenology borrowed heavily from other scientific fields such as genetics. On these pages, O. S. Fowler describes how likenesses are transmitted to descendants. 

Gift of Brian Mullaney in honor of his Great-Grandfather C.E. Martin, M.D., Rare Book Collection Health Sciences History

Rare Book Collection Health Sciences History BF 875 F787c 1875

Phrenology bust Phrenology bust

L. N. Fowler

Phrenology by L. N. Fowler 

Creswell, Oregon: Authentic Models 

This head is a replica of busts sold as accessories for the Fowler brothers’ books. The heads were clearly labelled in simple language so that people could become self-taught phrenologists.  

Gift of Mark and Yvette Scheutzow, Health Sciences History Collection