Building Nation, Becoming Object: The Bio-Politics of the Samuel G. Morton Crania Collection

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Here I use a biohistorical approach to examine the connection between 19th-century nation building in the United States and physicians’ collection of crania, notably “specimens” amassed by Dr. Samuel Morton. Globally disparate places are represented in the Morton Collection, though roughly 25% are Native Americans. Morton acquired these decedents as a result of colonial expansion and military conflicts that revised the national borders of the U.S. Events precipitating removal of natives from the Southeast, paying special attention to Florida, are demonstrative. During this process, “White” Americans’ retellings of interactions with “Indians” solidified into official history, while Morton’s craniometric studies reified racialized categories. This two-pronged “bio-political strategy” produced hegemonic notions of American citizenship that privileged Whiteness. In returning to the Morton Collection, however, I also identify traces—archival and skeletal—of past events and peoples that counterpoise official histories and, in so doing, point to the fragility of this nationalist project and racialization processes.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)52-70
Number of pages19
JournalHistorical Archaeology
Issue number1
StatePublished - Mar 1 2020


  • Samuel G. Morton
  • Seminoles
  • bio-politics
  • craniometric studies
  • skulls

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Archaeology
  • History
  • Archaeology


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