Update on the Morton collection

For updates on the Museum’s work towards the repatriation and burial of the Morton Collection, please refer to this page.

The following bibliography provides a comprehensive list of publications written by Morton, as well as publications about Morton’s life and research, publications by Morton’s major supporters and critics, major publications on craniology and race science, and histories of race and science since Morton.

If you would like to suggest additions to the bibliography, please contact us at online.collections@pennmuseum.org.

Publications written by Morton

Samuel George Morton was a physician and an anatomy professor who also studied paleontology, anthropology, and biology. The listing below presents his major publication on these topics. His personal letters and notes are also housed at:

Publications about Morton’s life and research, 1850s - 1910s

Morton died at the age of 52, when he was still serving as the president of the Academy of Natural Sciences. In the years following his death, he was eulogized by a number of his colleagues and admirers who published articles memorializing him. However, many of these articles were written by people who were advocates for ideas like phrenology or race supremacy, and so his eulogists often included only the information about Morton that supported their own views. Modern readers should therefore be skeptical when reading remembrances of Morton written by his admirers.

Notable publications citing Morton's craniological and race research, 1830s - 1920s

During his lifetime, Morton’s cranial measurements were cited in publications as either insightful or misguided, depending on the opinion of the author. Within a few decades after his death, Morton’s views of race and anthropology generally fell out of favor among leading scholars, largely because Morton’s ideas were incompatible with the chronology and mechanisms of evolution as proposed by Darwin, and because Morton incorrectly claimed that Native Americans were not descended from East Asian peoples. However, during the last decades of the 19th century, Morton’s measurements, listing the facial angles and cranial capacities of the skulls in his collection, were periodically cited alongside similar measurements published by other researchers.

Publications by Morton’s supporters and critics, 1830s - 1860s

Morton was conducting his research on race at a time when that topic was a pressing issue among scholars, politicians, and the general public. The following documents were written by those of Morton’s era who supported or refuted Morton’s findings, often while arguing against or in favor of slavery or race supremacy.

Significant publications on race and craniology, 1740s - 1920s

Probably the first scholar to document the different forms of human skulls was the 16th century anatomist Andreas Vesalius, but 18th and 19th century anatomists established the study of skulls and race as a respectable field of scholarly inquiry. Skulls and race were also discussed in popular books and articles written by authors with no training or experience in human anatomy or anthropology. Even so, their works significantly influenced later perceptions of racial variation.

Histories addressing Morton’s research and scientific racism, 1930s to today

Morton’s research was of limited interest to anthropologists or historians during the first half of the 20th century. Since the 1960s, historians have addressed Morton in a number of publications dealing with the pioneers of physical anthropology, the history of 19th century “race science,” and the origins of racism in the modern world.

Modern research on Morton and his skull collection from 1980 to today

There was no published research based on an examination of the Morton skulls between the years 1862 and 1988. However, the 21st century has witnessed a renewed interest in the collection as a rare collection of skulls from the mid-19th century and earlier.

Publications on Morton and racial bias in science, 1970s to today.

In 1960, the historian William Stanton published The Leopard’s Spots: Scientific Attitudes toward Race in America, 1815-59. Drawing largely from this work, the paleontologist Stephen Jay Gould conducted an examination of Morton’s published measurements, and proposed that Morton’s research was corrupted by unconscious racial bias. Since then, there have been ongoing discussions among historians and philosophers of science as to the validity of Gould’s conclusions.