(a note on content)
Some of the stories in the exhibition feature racist, ableist, and/or homophobic medical terms which are offensive. As curators and writers of this exhibition, we have done our best to use these terms responsibly, with a view to appropriately contextualising and exploring these ideas and their history, and encouraging continuing critical thought in the interests of positive social change in the future.
While trying to address these issues squarely, we are also aware that we may ourselves use racist and ableist language naively or in error. As such, we welcome corrections and suggestions for improving the language used here, and encourage you to get in touch with us to help us learn and improve the language of the exhibition if you feel we have done so. The exhibition also features images of pathology specimens which include human organs.
First Anthropometric Laboratory Photograph, UCL Science Collections (Galton Collection), 1884
Content Warning: This essay contains racist language cited from original documents. We do not condone the use of this language.
This photograph depicts the first Anthropometric Laboratory, established by Francis Galton, at the 1884 International Health Exhibition. The photograph was taken by the London Stereoscopic Company and is mounted onto a piece of beige card (Carter-Chapell et al. 2014, p.5).
Anthropometry is the science of measuring human abilities (Das, 2017) and Galton defined the purpose of the laboratory as “show[ing] the public the great simplicity of the instruments and methods by which the chief physical characteristics may be measured and recorded” (Galton, 1884, p.3).
Galton was a keen statistician and was determined to collect and use statistical data in order to expose differences between human races to promote his eugenics agenda (Carter-Chapell et al. 2014, p.18). He believed “that a man’s natural abilities [were] derived by inheritance” much the same as physical features (Galton, 1869, p.1), and wanted to improve the human population through selective breeding. Writing in 1865 Galton claimed that “talent is transmitted by inheritance”, and that “if talented men were mated with talented women (…) generation after generation, we might produce a highly-bred human race” (Galton, 1865, pp.157-166, pp.318-327). Yet there was a clear racial meaning in what Galton meant by talent. In his publication Hereditary Genius he drew up a hierarchy of races, placing Indigenous Australians at the very bottom and “the Athenian race” at the very top (Galton, 1869, pp.339-40). In accordance with this racial hierarchy, whereby superiority was evinced by whiteness, white races were perceived to be more talented because “the average intellectual standard of the negro race is some two grades below our own” (Galton, 1869, p.338). Galton was concerned that weak and inferior characteristics were being passed down from parents to children in the poorer sections of society and within certain races (Science Museum Group, n.d). This fuelled a fear of racial degeneration, prompting Galton to establish the Anthropometric Laboratory to prove his theories on race and inheritance.
Comparing different races through body measurements was introduced in Britain in the mid nineteenth century by anthropologists who wanted to create a “science of man” (Smith, 2019, p.5). Physical dimensions were thought to represent racial difference and skeletal materials were examined with a focus on skull size to confirm the racial hierarchy (Smith, 2019, p.6). Anthropometry was a practice which focused on living beings, founded in Belgium by Adolphe Quetlet. He produced a model which related physique to categories such as age and class that spread across Europe. In Britain, interest in Quetlet’s ideas peaked in the late nineteenth century, aligning with fears of racial degeneration and the push for a healthier nation (Smith, 2019, p.5). Galton engaged with anthropometry as a statistical practice to compare and analyse human differences in order to reveal the unfit in British society. In the early 1870s he proposed that a national anthropometric survey be conducted to gauge Britain’s fitness and establish a national standard of health that could be compared with other nations (Szreter, 1996, p.135). However, without the financial help of the government there was not a vast amount of data collected. Galton needed a wider remit of data and desired “a more systematic registration of physical measurements” (Galton, 1884, p.4).
This opportunity came in 1884 at the International Health Exhibition, where Galton established the first anthropometric laboratory. Advertised in the Exhibition’s official booklet as a place where “visitors can have their principal physical dimension taken, their hearing power and accuracy of eyesight ascertained, and their strength tested” (Acland, 1884, p.14), 9,337 visitors paid three pence to be measured and assessed in seventeen different ways with instruments designed by Galton (Smith, 2019, pp.22,23-25). The laboratory was six feet wide and thirty-six feet long and was contained by latticework; a deliberate decision to encourage participation (Pearson, 1924, cited in Carter-Chapell et al. 2014, p.22). Eye colour, hair colour, height, weight and arm span were some of the physical dimensions taken. Participants were guided through tests including eyesight, hearing, touch, swiftness of blow with a fist and various strength tests and were able to keep their record card as a souvenir of the experience (Carter-Chapell et al. 2014, p.23).
Galton assessed the progress of the individual, as well as assessing the nation as a whole (Galton, 1884, p.3). He also utilised the data to suggest suitable occupations for participants and later lobbied for anthropometric testing to be introduced for employment in the military and civil service (Smith, 2019, p.26). This would essentially assign marks for physical efficiency to those people applying for prestigious posts (Smith, 2019, p.26). The desire to metrically identify superior qualities within the human race was an effort to align certain characteristics to certain classes, occupations and races, in order to validate Galton’s beliefs as an academic science through the use of statistics.
Following the success of the Health Exhibition, the laboratory was transferred to a piece of vacant ground, accessible through the galleries of the Kensington Museum. During the three years it was there 3,678 people were measured: proving to be less popular than its one year at the health exhibition. The laboratory then moved to the South Kensington Museum as a more permanent base (Carter-Chapell et al. 2014, p.24).
Similar anthropometric laboratories were established at the University of Cambridge, the University of Oxford and Trinity College Dublin, propelling Galton’s ideas into the academic sphere (Carter-Chapell et al. 2014, p.30). Eugenics achieved institutional expression in 1904 when Galton funded a eugenics laboratory at UCL (UCL, 2020, p.24). His protege Karl Pearson became the Director of this laboratory in 1907, teaching students the science of eugenics (UCL, 2020, p.24), with the ideas all stemming from Galton’s early anthropometrics. LDUGC-145 is significant because it documents the first known laboratory of its kind. Presented as a science, the marking out of human differences and identification of qualities as superior or inferior ultimately helped to legitimise eugenics in Britain and throughout the rest of the world during the early part of the twentieth century.
By Ruth Andrew
Acland, Henry W. 1884. The Health Exhibition Literature Vol. XIX. London: William Clowes and Sons Limited. Available at: https://wellcomecollection.org/works/pr4wq2et/items?canvas=2
Carter-Chappell, Holly., Fu-Ya Li, Monica., Linkin, Paris., Serveta, Maria., Walker, Catherine., and Walsh, Alice. 2014. The First Anthropometric Laboratory. UCL Internal Report [Unpublished]
Das, Subhadra. 2017. Racism, eugenics and the domestication of humans. UCL Culture Blog. 25 October. Available at: https://blogs.ucl.ac.uk/museums/2017/10/25/racism-eugenics-and-the-domestication-of-humans/#more-52175
Galton, Francis. 1865. Hereditary Character and Talent. MacMillan’s Magazine 12: 157-166. Available at: https://galton.org/essays/1860-1869/galton-1865-macmillan-hereditary-talent.html
Galton, Francis. 1869. Hereditary Genius. London: MacMillan and Co and New York. Available at: https://galton.org/books/hereditary-genius/text/pdf/galton-1869-genius-v3.pdf
Galton, Francis. 1884. Anthropometric Laboratory. London: William Clowes and Sons Limited. Available at: https://galton.org/essays/1880-1889/galton-1884-anthro-lab.pdf
Science Museum Group. n.d. Sir Francis Galton 1822 - 1911. Available at: https://collection.sciencemuseumgroup.org.uk/people/cp37299/francis-galton
Smith, Elise. 2019. ‘“Why do we measure mankind?”: Marketing anthropometry in late-Victorian Britain [Forthcoming in History of Science; Accepted 19/03/2019]. Available at: http://wrap.warwick.ac.uk/115196/1/WRAP-why-do-we-measure-mankind-Smith-2019.pdf
UCL. 2020. ‘Inquiry into the History of Eugenics at UCL – Final Report’. Available at: Microsoft Word - Final Report February 2020a.docx (ucl.ac.uk)
Szreter, Simon. 1996. Fertility, Class, and Gender in Britain, 1860-1940. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
LDUGC-365ACCESSION NUMBER: A unique identifier assigned to, and achieving initial control of, each acquisition. Assignment of accession numbers typically occurs at the point of accessioning or cataloging.
Eye colour gauge, UCL Science Collections (Galton Collection), 1903-1907.
In early 20th century Switzerland, anthropologist Rudolf Martin (1864-1925) produced the Augenfarbentafel (eye colour chart or gauge), with the intention of categorising people according to their physical differences....
LDUCZ-Z1201 / LDUCZ-Z1206-8ACCESSION NUMBER: A unique identifier assigned to, and achieving initial control of, each acquisition. Assignment of accession numbers typically occurs at the point of accessioning or cataloging.
Pearson Dog Skeletons, Grant Museum of Zoology and Comparative Anatomy, late 19th/early 20th century.
The Grant Museum of Zoology at UCL holds a number of dog skeletons, skins and a mounted dog specimen which relate to Karl Pearson's dog breeding programme at UCL....
LDUAC-2008/32ACCESSION NUMBER: A unique identifier assigned to, and achieving initial control of, each acquisition. Assignment of accession numbers typically occurs at the point of accessioning or cataloging.
Greater Zimbabwe Pot, Institute of Archaeology Collections, late 20th century.
This ceramic bowl was purchased for Margaret Dower in a village near Great Zimbabwe in Zimbabwe in the late 20th century....