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Anthropometry is the study of human body measurement for use in anthropological classification and comparison.

In the 19th and early 20th centuries, anthropometry was a pseudoscience used mainly to classify potential criminals by facial characteristics. For example, Cesare Lombroso's Criminal Anthropology (1895) claimed that murderers have prominent jaws and pickpockets have long hands and scanty beards. The work of Eugene Vidocq, which identifies criminals by facial characteristics, is still used nearly a century after its introduction in France.

The most infamous use of anthropometry was by the Nazis, whose Bureau for Enlightenment on Population Policy and Racial Welfare recommended the classification of Aryans and non-Aryans on the basis of measurements of the skull and other physical features. Craniometric certification was required by law. The Nazis set up certification institutes to further their racial policies. Not measuring up meant denial of permission to marry or work, and for many it meant the death camps.

Today, anthropometry has many practical uses, most of them benign. For example, it is used to assess nutritional status,  to monitor the growth of children, and to assist in the design of office furniture.

See also craniometry and phrenology.

further reading

Gould, Stephen Jay. The Mismeasure of Man (W W Norton & Co: 1993).

Last updated 26-Oct-2015

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