This is a very strange picture - why is that man examining their heads? And why are they in a room full of skulls?
The man in the centre is the famous phrenologist Franz Joseph Gall, a phrenologist is someone who studies skulls. Gall is remembered as the father of phrenology as it was him who came up with the theory that a person's intellegence, abilities and sense of right and wrong could be understood by looking at their skull.
Nowadays this is considered psuedo - or fake - science, but at the time lots of people believed him. Importantly, these ideas were used to suggest that some people were inferior to others, based entirely on the shape of their skull. We know now that this doesn't make any sense but it was a common belief at the time.
This image, and the concept of Phrenology, can be used to introduce students to the history of medicine.
It is an important reminder that medical practice has changed a lot over time and often practices which are seen as legitimate can later be disproved.
For another example of changing medical practices teachers can refer to this image of a 17th Century tooth extraction.
- In a room filled with skulls of the famous, the phrenologist Gall examines Pitt the Younger and Gustavus IV, the King of Sweden, both currently plagued by Napoléon. Coloured etching, 1806. 1806
- This is a very strange picture - why is that man examining their heads? And why are they in a room full of skulls?