Thesis ID: CBB715387504

Between the Calendar and the Clock, an Environmental History of American Timekeeping in the Nineteenth Century (2019)


Wersan, Kate E. (Author)
Cronon, William (Advisor)

University of Wisconsin at Madison
Cronon, William
Publication date: 2019
Language: English

Publication Date: 2019
Physical Details: 286

The history of timekeeping runs through American histories of modernity and the Enlightenment, the impact of capitalism, changes in business management, and changing perceptions of the natural world. In classic works by E.P. Thompson, Michel Foucault, Jacques le Goff, and David Harvey the broad transformation in Western time-consciousness from the Enlightenment to modernity appears as the slow death of natural time and seasonal rhythms, the subduing of calendrical or liturgical measures of time, and the enforcement of abstract measures, ticked-off by machines in ever smaller and more reliable units. But the clock has never been the only way to know and note time, and the history of modern timekeeping is not only a history of mechanical time. This other history—the history of how Western non-clock-based ways of tracking time changed over the course of the long nineteenth century—is the subject of this dissertation. Proposing the term 'organic timekeepers' for timekeeping technologies that operate where human temporal abstractions touch the material world, this dissertation presents four case studies drawn from across the nineteenth century to illustrate the ways these timekeeping technologies were universalized, standardized, and employed at different scales to better align American life and labor with the rhythms of the natural world. Five decades ago, E.P. Thompson opened historians’ eyes to systems of organic timekeeping operating within English peasant life and challenged by industrial time discipline, a revelation from which generations of scholars have drawn important inspiration. However, this dissertation argues, far from dying at the hands of a clock-driven modern industrial world, those systems of organic timekeeping persisted far longer than Thompson credited, and continue to shape our lives and environmental perception today. The modern world is built on the foundation of modern organic timekeeping.

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Authors & Contributors
Betts, Jonathan
Kinns, Roger
Turner, Anthony J.
Bartky, Ian R.
Bianchi, Simone
Clarke, D.
Journal of Astronomical History and Heritage
Annals of Science: The History of Science and Technology
Archives Internationales d'Histoire des Sciences
British Journal for the History of Science
Journal for the History of Astronomy
Oxford University Press
University of Chicago Press
Princeton University
Antiquarian Horological Society
Johns Hopkins University Press
Time measuring instruments
Time measurement
Time perception
Scientific apparatus and instruments
Airy, George Biddell
Harrison, John
Hirsch, Adolphe
La Hire, Philippe de
Bond, family
Time Periods
19th century
17th century
18th century
20th century
20th century, early
Great Britain
Ottoman Empire
New Zealand
Royal Observatory Greenwich
Observatoire de Neuchâtel

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