In 1870, the Belgian Adolphe Quetelet wrote in his seminal scientific work Anthropometrié that “the average man characterises the nation to which he belongs.” An obsession with the “national” characterized the field of anthropometry, which scientists such as Quetelet pioneered in the Francophone world; their techniques were quickly adopted and adapted elsewhere—by Francis Galton in London and by Aleš Hrdlička, Earnest Hooton, and Franz Boas in the United States. Ireland played a surprisingly central role in this burgeoning new field of international scientific enquiry, which quickly became focused on connecting racial and criminal “degeneracy” under the guise of a scientific search for the “normal,” “average,” or “typical” example of any given ethnic or social group. This article connects two major Irish research projects, the Dublin Anthropometric Lab at Trinity College Dublin (1888–99) and the physical anthropology strand of the Harvard Irish Study (1934–36), to show that Ireland was an important node in the network of scientists and researchers who constructed the discourses of global racial science.

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