Social hierarchies often influenced academic findings in the early twentieth century, especially when those findings involved native people and other races. In 1901, anthropologist David P. Barrows wrote If Possible Take the Following Six Measurements, a list of instructions on how to get information about native Filipinos which reflects these cultural influences. It is full of distinctions between facial features, body types, and measurements to classify different tribes. It was written amidst the occupation and war over the Philippines. Barrows served as the superintendent of schools and then Chief of the Bureau of non-Christian Tribes for the Philippine Commission that was responsible for the governing of the islands during U.S. occupation. Prior to this, he was known for his anthropological work with indigenous people in the American West. According to his Wikipedia page, Barrows was known to be a “Humanitarian Imperialist.” While he was still paternalistic and racist, he attempted to work in the native’s best interest and not solely out of greed.
Reading Barrows’ document you can see both his desire to study indigenous people in a serious way, but also the racism that was inherent amongst academia. At the beginning of the document, he writes that it is important to both learn the name of the tribe and the environment around them. He also gives specific ranges of measurement for heads and noses. Amongst these instructions, he refers a few times to how the Negritos, an ethnic group in the Philippines, had different measurements. He noted that head sizes for Negritos “is always more than stature” (Barrows, 1901). While much of this appears to be in the name of science, it is clear how measuring things such as skull sizes and nose lengths can be a means of separating people for insignificant features. Additionally, certain elements of his work suggest that the researchers could be violating the personal space of the natives. Examples of this include the questions, “Are there unusual deposits of fat or adipose tissue in the body especially about the hips and buttocks?” and “Are the breasts of women long and pendent or rounded and erect?” (Barrows, 1901). This could also represent the lack of respect academics had for the natives as they did not even include information about getting permission, they were just informed to take the measurements.
Looking at this in a historical context, it was written during a time when social Darwinism and “The White Man’s Burden” were very influential in the minds of Americans. So sure of their dominance, they had a desire to “civilize” those who they saw as different from them. Studying the people of their territories gave colonizers further reason to other groups they had control over, justifying their colonialism. The question that is not answered in this document is what is the point of all of this? Taking these measures and understanding how different groups have different physical characteristics is not inherently bad, but it should be done in a way that does not “otherize” groups. The measurements alone could be used to serve racist purposes, which they were.