Beloit College Magazine

Beloit College Magazine

Spring 2012 (March 20, 2012)

Painted plaster cast from 1900

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March 20, 2012

Indian Plaster Cast Head 

From: the Starr Collection, Logan Museum of Anthropology

Story: This plaster cast of Juan Salazar, a Tepehua Indian from the state of Puebla, Mexico, is one of 23 Mexican Indian busts held in the Logan Museum. Frederick Starr, the University of Chicago’s first anthropology professor, made these casts as he traveled the countryside of western Mexico in the summer of 1900. His research compelled men—with the help of police and local authorities—to “volunteer” to have impressions made of their head and shoulders. Starr made a total of 102 casts during several trips.

Starr’s approach to anthropology was typical of the 19th century. He equated race with culture and applied evolutionary principles to human societies, often painting the people he studied as inferior or underdeveloped. This theoretical approach fell out of favor in the early 20th century with the rise of Boasian anthropology, which emphasized empiricism, ethnographic research, and cultural relativism.

The Logan family helped fund Starr’s research, and in return, the museum received 23 of the casts.

Use: The Starr Collection is used today in anthropology and museum studies courses to demonstrate how the fields have changed and to show the racism and imperialism implicit in early research. The collection spurs discussions on research ethics, exoticism, colonialism, and ethnocentrism.

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