Date of Award


Document Type

Open Access Dissertation

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy in Rhetoric, Theory and Culture (PhD)

Administrative Home Department

Department of Humanities

Advisor 1

Stefka Hristova

Committee Member 1

Ann Brady

Committee Member 2

Marika Seigel

Committee Member 3

Megan Frost

Committee Member 4

Steve Walton


This dissertation explores some of the scientific, technical and cultural history of human skin measurement and diagnostics. Through a significant collection of primary texts and case studies, I track the changing technologies and methods used to measure skin, as well as the scientific and sociotechnical applications. I then map these histories onto some of the diverse understandings of the human body, physics, biology, natural philosophy and language that underpinned the scientific enterprise of skin measurement. The main argument of my thesis demonstrates how these diverse histories of science historically and theoretically inform the succeeding methods and applications for skin measurement from early Greek medicine, to beginnings of Anthropology as scientific discipline, to the emergence of scientific racism, to the age of digital imaging analysis, remote sensing, algorithms, massive databases and biometric technologies; further, these new digital applications go beyond just health diagnostics and are creating new technical categorizations of human skin divorced from the established ethical mechanisms of modern science. Based on this research, I inquire how communication practices within the scientific enterprise address the ethical and historical implications for a growing set of digital biometric applications with industrial, military, sociopolitical and public functions.