Article ID: CBB584358033

Searching for the Normal Vision. Measuring Visual Acuity in the 19th Century (2021)


This article aims to reconstruct and analyse the late-19th century debates about the standards used for measuring eyesight. It deals in particular with the creation of eye charts, one of the main tools used to assess visual acuity. My argument is organized as follow: I start by providing an account of the historical background against which modern eye charts were developed; the best-known of them will be discussed together with their characteristics. Next, I analyse the debates among ophthalmologists of the time about the definition of “normal eye” and “normal vision”, and show the divergence between the ones theoretically formulated and the data collected during clinical researches. Finally, I consider the question of sight measurement, looking on the one hand at the specialists’ desire to standardize a framework for measuring visual acuity, and on the other at the many obstacles in the way of achieving that aim.

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Authors & Contributors
Brownlee, Peter John
Christensen, Alice R.
Amery, Fiona
Doria, Corinne
Heller-Roazen, Daniel
Gemma Almond-Brown
Studies in History and Philosophy of Science Part C: Studies in History and Philosophy of Biological and Biomedical Sciences
Physics in Perspective
Canadian Bulletin of Medical History/Bulletin Canadienne d'Histoire de la Medecine
Mefisto: Rivista di medicina, filosofia, storia
Scientia Canadensis: Journal of the History of Canadian Science, Technology, and Medicine
Revue d'Histoire des Sciences
University of Pennsylvania Press
Manchester University Press
Princeton University
Massachusetts Institute of Technology, MIT
Harvard University
Senses and sensation; perception
Visual perception
Kirschmann, August
Rood‏, Ogden Nicholas
Zacchia, Paolo
Wollaston, William Hyde
Proust, Marcel
Peirce, Charles Sanders
Time Periods
19th century
20th century, early
20th century
17th century
18th century
United States
Great Britain
Liverpool (England)
Toronto (Ontario)
University of Toronto

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