Museum Exhibit #1

January 30th, 2009

The object seen in this image is a set of calipers. A tool used often in the measuring of an individual’s skull in craniology and phrenology. They were used to measure the distance between two points, that are symmetrically opposite one another. As in the book, “The Mismeasure of Man” by Stephen Jay Gould, craniometry is described as the measuring of a person’s skull to determine the size of one’s brain, and therefore gauge the person’s intelligence. The significance of a set of calipers to this course is the racial context in which this sort of tool was implemented in. The scientists and doctors of the time were all white males who held pre-determined conclusions of the inferiority of the black race. This tool exemplifies that racist idea because like the data that they produced the tool could be manipulated or purposeflly mis-read to produce racist results.

At the time, it was considered a perfectly acceptable medical science and accurate measurement of human intelligence. However, as Gould exlplains in detail it was heavily affected by the scientist’s pre-determined racial ideas and all results pointed to whte’s having the most intelligence based off of skull size.

An overview of Craniometry can be found at this link,…

at this link there are more images of calipers and a discussion of the science of Craniometry and how the skulls of lower and higher humans were compared.

Calipers were significant in the 19th century because of their use as a scientific tool, and the research they were used for in establishing white supremacy through medical science. They were also significant, and still are today, because they can be used to measure the distance between any two symmetrical points and can be used in every day life, as well as in scientific and medical research. Calipers are still used by some in the medical profession today as a measure of body fat. This particular style of caliper is called an outside caliper, and is obviously used to measure the external size of an object.

Calipers are generally made of materials such as wood, steel or iron. Modern calipers can also be found in plastic models.

Calipers can be found at any hardware or tool store. Here is an example of a much more modern version of the same style of caliper.

The first image of a caliper is from this location,…

This particular set is housed at this medical antiques location.

As previously mentioned calipers are still a commonly used tool all over the world. They are used for measuring as well as other things, there have also been calibers created as part of a car’s brake system. A different style of caliper can be seen at this link,…

these are called vernier calipers.

The use of calipers has come a long way since the 19th century, however it is important to remember that they were once used as a primitive form of medical research that was said to determine which race of humans was the most intelligent.

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