“’Do not, on any account, marry one the back of whose head resembles cut No.4’: The Visual Encoding of Gender Ideology in Nineteenth-century Phrenology texts”
Susan Branson, Syracuse University
My paper examines phrenology texts that aimed to help men and women traverse a landscape of strangers in nineteenth-century urban America. As cities became larger, more crowded, and more confusing spaces, Stranger’s Guides became essential to finding one’s way around the streets. Phrenology texts, on the other hand, claimed to be the vade mecum to the city’s inhabitants. In the absence of family and community networks, these texts promised to assist men and women to navigate the terrain of personal relationships – to provide the key to unlocking the character of strangers. As urban life relied increasingly on visual cues - in advertisements, shop displays, and the clothing and demeanor of its inhabitants - phrenology texts claimed that gender traits could be identified visually, thus aiding in the choice of trustworthy business partners, diligent employees, and suitable marriage partners.
Commentator: Carla Bittel, Loyola Marymount University
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