[SydPhil] HPS Research Seminar, Monday 16, October 2023 at 5:30pm

HPS Admin hps.admin at sydney.edu.au
Mon Oct 9 10:00:00 AEDT 2023

School of History and Philosophy of Science


[The University of Sydney]


Phenotypic Hands: Dermatoglyphics and Medical Genetics

Alison Bashford (UNSW)

Dates: Monday, 16/10/2023
Time: 5:30pm
Venue: Madsen Building (F09), Level 3, Room 331
How to register: Free, no registration required

Abstract: Late nineteenth-century readers of hands often claimed their work to be a medical and scientific palmistry; not a telling of the future, but a kind of diagnostics, a modern version of physiognomy. In this paper I explore how, and for whom, patterns on the hands came to be read by actual, not aspirational, scientists. The study of dermatoglyphics emerged in the light of Galton’s fingerprint correlation studies, but also in the light of a psychoanalytic tradition of how the body might speak through the hands. A geometry of ridges, lines, and patterns yielded information that the Galton Laboratory at UCL, led by mathematician Lionel Penrose, correlated with chromosomal abnormalities. Reading signs on the hand as phenotypes crossed into and drew from the domain of traditional palmistry.

Bio: Alison Bashford is Scientia Professor of History at UNSW, and Director of the Laureate Centre for History & Population. Her most recent monograph is An Intimate History of Evolution (Penguin) and edited book, New Earth Histories: Geo-cosmologies and the making of the modern world (Chicago). She is currently writing The Strange History of the Hand (Chicago), a long history of sign-reading from physiognomy to palmistry to genetics.


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