Hear from Rachel E. Walker, author of Beauty and the Brain: The Science of Human Nature in Early America. 

This fascinating new book examines the history of phrenology and physiognomy, proposing a bold new way of understanding the connection between science, politics, and popular culture in early America. Walker provides an important history of how people tried to read facial features as a mark of character for both conservative and radical purposes.

Attendees will have the opportunity to submit questions and have their books signed.

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Add to Calendar 05/18/2023 19:00:00 05/18/2023 20:00:00 America/New_York Ford Evening Book Talk: Beauty and the Brain

Hear from Rachel E. Walker, author of Beauty and the Brain: The Science of Human Nature in Early America. 

This fascinating new book examines the history of phrenology and physiognomy, proposing a bold new way of understanding the connection between science, politics, and popular culture in early America. Walker provides an important history of how people tried to read facial features as a mark of character for both conservative and radical purposes.

Attendees will have the opportunity to submit questions and have their books signed.

REGISTER

In PersonVirtual

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Cost

Free

About the Book

Between the 1770s and the 1860s, people all across the globe relied on physiognomy and phrenology to evaluate human worth. These once-popular but now discredited disciplines were based on a deceptively simple premise: that facial features or skull shape could reveal a person’s intelligence, character, and personality. In the United States, these were culturally ubiquitous sciences that both elite thinkers and ordinary people used to understand human nature.

While the modern world dismisses phrenology and physiognomy as silly and debunked disciplines, Beauty and the Brain shows why they must be taken seriously: they were the intellectual tools that a diverse group of Americans used to debate questions of race, gender, and social justice. While prominent intellectuals and political thinkers invoked these sciences to justify hierarchy, marginalized people and progressive activists deployed them for their own political aims, creatively interpreting human minds and bodies as they fought for racial justice and gender equality. Ultimately, though, physiognomy and phrenology were as dangerous as they were popular. In addition to validating the idea that external beauty was a sign of internal worth, these disciplines often appealed to the very people who were damaged by their prejudicial doctrines. In taking physiognomy and phrenology seriously, Beauty and the Brain recovers a vibrant—if largely forgotten—cultural and intellectual universe, showing how popular sciences shaped some of the greatest political debates of the American past.

About the Author

Rachel E. Walker is an assistant professor at the University of Hartford. She earned her Ph.D. in history from the University of Maryland. Her scholarship has been supported by numerous archives and institutions, including the Smithsonian Museum’s National Portrait Gallery, the McNeil Center for Early American Studies, and the American Antiquarian Society.  She worked on Beauty and the Brain while a member of the Washington Library’s 2020-21 class of research fellows.

Sponsored By The Ford Motor Company Fund

Sponsored By The Ford Motor Company Fund

Mount Vernon has enjoyed a very special relationship with the Ford Motor Company dating back more than 90 years. We are grateful for their generous support and we applaud their abiding respect for American heritage.

Contact

Stephen A. McLeod

Director, Library Programs

703.799.8686

smcleod@mountvernon.org

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