Sarah Gold McBride, doctoral candidate in history, will lead a roundtable discussion titled, Whiskerology: The Meaning of Hair in Nineteenth-Century America on Thursday, September 17th at Noon in the O’Neill Room of The Faculty Club.
In 1846, a New Orleans Picayune reporter proposed a new branch of natural science that, he argued, could provide scientists with reliable evidence of a person’s genuine identity.
He called this new field “whiskerology,” the scientific study of facial hair. Though this idea may never have moved beyond the level of suggestion, the Picayune reporter represented a common belief among nineteenth-century Americans: that hair could expose the truth about the person from whose body it grew.
Using evidence drawn from across American life – including scientific findings, legal practice, slavery, popular art, immigration debates, and agitation for women’s rights – this talk will explore how nineteenth-century Americans understood the meaning of hair. It was not just a means of creative self-expression, as it would come to function in the twentieth century.
Instead, it was understood to be a trustworthy method to quickly classify a stranger – to know if someone was trustworthy, or courageous, or criminally inclined. Studying hair in historical context allows us to better understand how nineteenth-century Americans made sense of the increasingly modern society in which they lived.
When: September 17, 2015, Noon – 1:00 pm
Where: O’Neill Room, The Faculty Club
Free and open to the public.
Post contributed by
Kathryn M. Neal
Associate University Archivist
The Bancroft Library