Recording Race: T. H. Huxley’s Photographic Survey of the Races of the British Empire. Research visit to the „Thomas Henry Huxley Papers“, Imperial College London, April 2015.
It is certainly not easy to get an appointment at the archives of Imperial College London, where the “Thomas Henry Huxley Papers” are kept. This is the only archive I have encountered so far that would make a letter of intent, a project description, as well as a letter from my supervisor and university a prerequisite for consulting the materials. However, after settling all those issues, I am received cordially and a seat and research aids have been prepared for me.
Thomas Henry Huxley was a traveler, biologist and educational reformer, he is however best known as an important advocate of Darwin’s theory of evolution. He shared a circle of friends with Charles Darwin, Herbert Spencer and Francis Galton, with whom he exchanged letters that are kept in the archive. For instance in a letter dated October 16th, 1886, Francis Galton asks Huxley’s opinion on the biographies of Erasmus Darwin and Charles Darwin in relation to a proposal for a monument.
Races of the Empire
I am, however, particularly interested in his project of a visual survey of the ‘races’ of the British Empire, that was launched in 1869, and for which Huxley developed a anthropometrical photographic standard for the depiction the human body. The plan originated in the Ethnological Society of which Huxley was president, and which sought to improve the quality of data in the field and establish a scientific classification of the ‘races’ of the British Empire. The project however was administered by the Colonial Office in London that sent out an official request to the colonial administrations and forwarded the material, photographs and letters, to Huxley. Even though the material that he received was never used in his publications or in the work of the Ethnological Society, the portraits represent an important, if problematic, insight into the practices of scientific photographic depiction of the human body and in particular of colonial subjects. Recording Race: Huxley weiterlesen
Research visit to the “Museo di anthropologica criminale”, the Lombroso Museum for Criminal Anthropology in Turin/Italy, August 2014.
The navigation system leads us into the busy city of Turin in northern Italy, past huge shopping malls and petrol stations, past the derelict illegal housings of migrants, along the river and through the scenic city centre and on to a quieter part of town where the museum occupies a historical university building. The collection was created by the Italian physician and criminologist Cesare Lombroso in 1892 and has continuously existence ever since. It moved back to its former location the “Palazzo degli Instituto Anatomico” and was redone recently, explanations were added and multi-media installations guide the visitor, but the artefacts and the presentation are still in the vein of the famous advocate for positivist criminology.
The in the pompous hallway of the late nineteenth century building that was constructed as a “city of science” a video installation is installed below the ceiling. The inner side of the circular object shows portraits and specimen from the collection, a moving projector throws similar images onto this screen and creates temporary superimpositions of different faces. This introduction to visual material of the collection has striking similarities to the technique of composite photography that was developed as a mode of scientific visualisation by Lombroso’s British contemporary Francis Galton. The installation might also be an illustration of a scientific method, direct visual comparison.
In a dark, wooden furnished cinema-style anteroom a double-screen video installation introduces the time of Cesare Lombroso, the turn of the 19th century. Positivist to the Bone: Lombroso Museum weiterlesen
Research visit to the Galton Collection London July 2014
This time easily find my way to Wolfson House in a side street of London’s Euston Station. At the door I am greeted by the porter who was also present last year. I am early, so I go up and sit down in the staff kitchen in the fifth floor where I meet Subhadra Das some minutes later. We chat for some time and it feels like coming home. The archive has returned to its old location after the refurbishment, this allows me to view the collection of artefacts and instruments that was packed away last time. I am here to explore the sources of the composite portraits and to trace connections to other archives and institutions.
Later in the morning a group of visitors from an American University arrives and Subhadra gives a tour through the collection. She skillfully uses individual artifacts and objects to guide through Galton’s career and his major achievements. A serviette ring with pyramids hints at the young explorer’s travels to Cairo and up the Nile, the source of the Nile being a recurrent subject in Galton’s later work in the National Geographic Society. A quite similar shaped, but entirely different object, a South-West-African wristband shows his travels as the first European into the interior of what is today known as Namibia. Prove of his gift as a developer are specifically designed apparatuses for morse communication by use of a mirror, a portable finger printing machine, as well as calipers and measuring devices for anthropometrical purposes. It is hard not to collapse in the hot and tiny rooms, but this approach to Galton’s through the objects in the collection really makes sense and could be a great contribution to the publication on composite photography I am planning as part of my project. Subhadra closes her tour with an observation of analogies in the character structure between Galton an the notoriously self-centered nerd character Sheldon in the US TV series “The Big Band Theory” and involves the psychology students in a discussion about the characters oscillating between genius and madness.
Instruments & Measurements
The most interesting part of the collection of objects are the various measuring instruments. Unlike many of his contemporaries Galton developed and designed many of the instruments himself. De-Composing Composites weiterlesen