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“The Battle of the Standards”: Measuring, Counting and Weighing in Western Europe 1660-1914

Peter Kramper

The uniformity of weights and measures is an aspect of modern society which is largely taken for granted. In reality, however, universally or at least nationally accepted standards are of very recent origin. It was only during the 18th century that their implementation began in earnest, and it took until the outbreak of the First World War before they had become firmly entrenched.

The project is investigating this process of standardization in a comparative perspective on Britain, France and Germany. It is looking at its causes, its characteristics, its consequences and its limits. Methodologically, the study assumes that weights and measures are complex social institutions rather than mere technical implements. It therefore tries to connect their development to overarching trends such as the rise of modern science, industrialization and the nation state.

More specifically, it focuses on three interrelated aspects of the topic: Firstly, changing scientific definitions of measures and systems of measurement; secondly, the political and administrative history of their implementation; and thirdly, the impact of standardization on economic and social practices of measurement. Overall, the study aims at a comprehensive analysis of a telling aspect of the transition from agrarian society to modernity.