The archive of a 19th-century race scientist.

The archive of a 19th-century race scientist. Samuel George Morton (1799-1851) was a Philadelphia physician, naturalist, and central figure at the Academy of Natural Sciences of Philadelphia from the 1820s until his death as its president. Morton is known today as among the most influential architects of scientific racism in the United States, both for his publications – most notably Crania Americana (1839), Crania Aegpytiaca (1844), and a Catalogue of Skulls (1849) – and for the collection of nearly one thousand human skulls from across the world, amassed and measured during his lifetime to supply the “data” for these works.

The Library Company of Philadelphia holds hundreds of letters of incoming correspondence sent to Morton, as well as many of Morton’s private notes, records, and manuscript drafts of his publications. This archive details how Morton mobilized a global network of colleagues and associates to send him skulls taken from battlefields, dissection halls, graves, and communal sites for the interment and commemoration of the dead, from Australia, Egypt, India, Liberia, Peru, and beyond, often through currents of empire and in the wake of colonial violence. These documents also contain traces of Indigenous resistance to grave-robbing, and of the inconsistencies and biases which riddle Morton’s racist project.

This project is led by historian and anthropologist Paul Wolff Mitchell and Zachariah Julian (Jicarilla Apache), who is a singer, songwriter, performer, and artistic producer for We Are the Seeds, a Philadelphia-based organization educating and celebrating contemporary Indigenous arts and cultures. In collaboration with Paul, Zachariah will produce a live performance drawing on Morton’s papers, interweaving stories of Indigenous pasts and presents, imagining how the archives of a 19th century race scientist with settler-colonial presumptions of Indigenous extinction can be read, and put to rest, in ways that support Indigenous life and futurity.

Project Partners

Paul Wolff Mitchell is an anthropologist and historian working on the histories and afterlives of scientific racism in museums, the anthropological collection of human remains, and theories of racial difference and human origins in the 18th and 19th centuries. He is a postdoctoral scholar at the University of Amsterdam with a project titled “Pressing Matter: Ownership, Value, and the Question of Colonial Heritage in Museums,” funded by the Dutch Research Council (NWO).

Paul has held fellowships from the Consortium for the History of Science, Technology, and Medicine; the McNeil Center for Early American Studies; the Library Company of Philadelphia; the Fulbright U.S. Program; the German Academic Exchange Service; and the Wenner-Gren Foundation. He has also been a research fellow with the Penn and Slavery Project and the Penn Program on Race, Science, and Society. His research has been covered in DiscoverForbesThe Guardian, and the New York Times.

Zachariah Julian serves as the Digital Media and Artistic Producer for We are the Seeds, a Philadelphia-based organization producing cultural events, programs, and workshops that celebrate and support Indigenous arts and artists throughout North America.  He curates programs that are diverse, balanced, interesting, and entertaining. Zachariah composes music for From Here, With a View and other Seeds programs. Additionally, Zachariah edits daily content to upload to We Are the Seeds social media and archives, is a podcast producer and host. A musician and performer, he is knowledgeable in production and stage management. He has lived on the Apache Nation for 19 years and has been playing piano for over 20 years. Zachariah started composing when he was 16 and attended University of New Mexico majoring in Music Theory and Composition. He has just released a record titled Oblique.


Rachel D’Agostino, Curator of Printed Books and Co-Director of the Visual Culture Program

Rachel D’Agostino joined the Library Company in 2000. She is the Curator of Printed Books, previously having worked as Reference Librarian, and in the Cataloging and Administration departments. She has worked most extensively with the Library Company’s collections of printing for the blind, historical ephemera, institutional and popular medicine, and early American imprints. In 2013, she co-curated the Library Company’s exhibition Remnants of Everyday Life: Historical Ephemera in the Workplace, Street, and Home. She followed this in 2016 with Common Touch: The Art of the Senses in the History of the Blind, and in 2022 with Hearing Voices: Memoirs from the Margins of Mental Health. Rachel has taught numerous classes on book history and book arts, and served as Senior Lecturer at the University of the Arts until 2022. In addition to an MLS from Clarion University, Rachel holds a Master of Theological Studies degree from Harvard Divinity School and a B.A. in Religion from Temple University.