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The Noel Collection of life and death masks

Nicholas JBooth22 June 2012

For my first ever solo blog am I am going to talk about a collection that really stood out when I was looking around UCL in my first few weeks, and the interesting ‘science’ of phrenology.

Examples of masks from the Noel Collection

 

Phrenology is the study of head morphology and the belief that this is related to a person’s character. Simply put, the lumps and bumps on your head can indicate if you are (or are going to be) industrious or a criminal, a failure or success, a drunkard or teetotal. To many now this seems obviously absurd, and the theories behind it have been widely debunked, but in the 19th and early 20th centuries this was regarded as good science, and was very popular.

One of the Teaching and Research collections cared for by UCL is the Galton Collection, named after Sir Francis Galton (see here for further details). Galton was well known in his time as (amongst other things) an explorer, a pioneer of meteorology, psychology and phrenology and a statistician. He is particularly remembered today for his work with fingerprints, and amongst the bundles of finger prints held in the collection are those of Prime Minister William Gladstone.
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