The Morton Skull Collection: Race, Science, and America’s Unburied Dead

fabian_coverAn illustrated lecture and book signing with professor Ann Fabian
Date: Monday, February 21st
Time: 8:00 PM
Admission: $5
Presented by Morbid Anatomy

When Philadelphia doctor Samuel George Morton died in 1851 he left behind collection of more than a thousand human skulls. Not the grisly leftovers of botched operations, but the fruit of 20 years’ work gathering up human remains from around the world. Friends sent Morton heads from Peru, Cuba, Mexico, and Liberia, from almshouses in Pennsylvania, swamps in Florida, beaches in Hawaii, gallows in Indonesia, tombs in Egypt, and battlefields in Texas. Naturalists like Morton collected plants and animals, but trafficking in human remains was something strange and different. Morton was sure that human skulls held clues to the riddles of race that troubled his generation. Were human beings all one species? After measuring skulls, Morton thought not.

In her new book The Skull Collectors: Race, Science, and America’s Unburied Dead, professor Ann Fabian details the story of Morton’s collection of skulls; in the process, she not only details Morton’s problematic and flawed ideas about race and science, but also the stories behind the individual skulls comprising the Morton Skull collection, the remnants of which now reside in the storerooms of the University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology. Whose skulls were these? How did they get to Philadelphia? And what has happened to this great collection of heads?

Tonight, join Morbid Anatomy and Professor Ann Fabian for an illustrated lecture based on the contents of Fabian’s new book The Skull Collectors: Race, Science, and America’s Unburied Dead. Copies of the book will be available for sale and signing.

Ann Fabian is a Professor of History and American Studies at Rutgers, the State University of New Jersey, where she recently completed a term as dean of humanities. She has published books on gambling and personal narratives, and written about the bodybuilding publisher Bernarr Macfadden, the ancient remains of Kennewick Man, and the dead bodies left floating in flooded New Orleans. She is working on a new book about ruins. The School for Advanced Research, the American Antiquarian Society, and the John Simon Guggenheim Foundation supported her research on The Skull Collectors: Race, Science, and America’s Unburied Dead. She is pleased to talk about this curious business.

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