Rachel Walker

Assistant Professor,  Department of History, University of Hartford

2020 to 2021
Research Fellow

Beauty and the Brain: The Science of the Mind in Early America

Between the 1770s and 1860s, Americans were fascinated with people’s faces, foreheads, and craniums. Believing that external beauty revealed internal merit, they analyzed appearances to understand the mysteries of the human mind. My book manuscript analyzes this phenomenon by focusing on physiognomy and phrenology: disciplines predicated on the notion that people’s heads and faces revealed their intelligence, personality, and character. Using interdisciplinary methodologies from History, Art History, Literary Studies, and the History of Science, the project argues that popular sciences became seductive tools for rationalizing and defending inequality. But Beauty and the Brain does not simply illustrate how science laid the groundwork for bigotry and discrimination. It also uncovers a story of marginalized people who fought back, crafting their own forms of scientific knowledge. In telling this story, this book not only rethinks what counted as science in early America, it also reimagines who might have counted as a scientist.