An Organ of Murder: Crime, Violence, and Phrenology in Nineteenth-Century America (Critical Issues in Health and Medicine) (Paperback)
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An Organ of Murder explores the origins of both popular and elite theories of criminality in the nineteenth-century United States, focusing in particular on the influence of phrenology. In the United States, phrenology shaped the production of medico-legal knowledge around crime, the treatment of the criminal within prisons and in public discourse, and sociocultural expectations about the causes of crime. The criminal was phrenology’s ideal research and demonstration subject, and the courtroom and the prison were essential spaces for the staging of scientific expertise. In particular, phrenology constructed ways of looking as well as a language for identifying, understanding, and analyzing criminals and their actions. This work traces the long-lasting influence of phrenological visual culture and language in American culture, law, and medicine, as well as the practical uses of phrenology in courts, prisons, and daily life.
About the Author
COURTNEY E. THOMPSON is an assistant professor of the history of science and medicine and U.S. women’s history at Mississippi State University in Starkville. She received her Ph.D. from the program in the history of science and medicine of Yale University in 2015.
"Courtney Thompson provocatively measures the face, head, and soul of American phrenology and invites us to a discovery of the historical origins of scientific criminology."
— Stephen Casper
"In this compelling book, Courtney Thompson takes readers to the prisons, courtrooms, and streets of antebellum cities to expose just how phrenology claimed authority on criminality. Rich in detail and analysis, An Organ of Murder vividly illustrates the long history of making criminal minds and bodies into objects of medical and scientific inquiry."
— Carla Bittel
"This short but informative book will appeal to anyone with an interest in phrenology, criminology, or the histories of psychiatry, psychology, and related fields, especially in nineteenth-century America. It fills a void, is well researched, and is written in an engaging and captivating way."
— Journal of the History of Neurosciences
An Organ of Murder? - BYU Radio "Constant Wonder" interview with Courtney E. Thompson
— BYU Radio, "Constant Wonder"
Privacy International - Technology Pill podcast interview with Courtney Thompson
— Privacy International - Technology Pill podcast
"New Books Network - New Books in Medicine" interview with Courtney E. Thompson
— New Books Network - New Books in Medicine
Consortium for History of Science, Technology and Medicine, Sciences of the Mind forum held in partnership with American Philosophical Society: Courtney Thompson and Alicia Puglionesi in discussion
— Consortium for History of Science, Technology and Medicine - Sciences of the Mind
"For a compelling introduction to what a new generation of scholars is discovering about the perennially interesting topic of phrenology, Courtney E. Thompson’s An Organ of Murder comes highly recommended. This sophisticated, well-written history explores an aspect of phrenology that deserves more attention: its influence on both elite and popular conceptions of criminality....An Organ of Murder should find an appreciative readership not only among historians of science and medicine but also scholars interested in the new carceral history."
— Journal of the History of Medicine and Allied Scienes