University of Cambridge > Talks.cam > Cabinet of Natural History > Skulls, science and the spoils of war: frontier violence and the creation of the US Army Medical Museum’s cranial collection, 1869-1900

Skulls, science and the spoils of war: frontier violence and the creation of the US Army Medical Museum’s cranial collection, 1869-1900

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In 1868, the Assistant Surgeon General of the United States Army issued a circular to all medical officers posted in ‘Indian country’ ordering them to collect as many skulls as possible of the ‘aboriginal races of North America’ for the purposes of anthropological research. This marked the beginning of several decades in which the collection of Native American remains was an official government policy, and one in which the widespread loss of life in the ‘Indian Wars’ was explicitly exploited for anthropological ends. This paper uncovers the circumstances in which the specimens collected amidst the Indian Wars were made into one of the largest and most celebrated cranial collections in America, and examines why the American Army Medical Department chose to involve itself so heavily in craniological research, only to abandon it completely by the end of the nineteenth century.

This talk is part of the Cabinet of Natural History series.

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