Time

Book Review

The Globalization of Time Keeping

March 30, 2019

The Global Transformation of Time, 1870 - 1950
by Vanessa Ogle, 1985


Throughout the 19th century, moving all the village folk worldwide into one agreed-upon definition of time took some doing. And in adopting this universal standard, people bargained away their own timeframes for prestige and status, sometimes without even realizing it.

"What scientists had in mind in devising a scheme for worldwide time zones was, after all, an incredibly ambitious project," wrote Vanessa Ogle in “The Global Transformation of Time, 1870 - 1950. "It was tremendously difficult even for lawmakers and at least moderately educated bureaucrats to imagine time as abstract and empty."

Today, when we talk about "standardization," we use the term retroactively. Back in the day, it was all about making time "uniform" -- "standardize" wasn't an abstraction that was around then. Even the concept of "time" was an alien entity.

Clocks and timepieces became status symbols in less-developed countries. And it was not only the backwoods folk who were persuaded,

“British scientific societies egged on government officials in London to endow the ‘crown jewel’ of the British Empire with a more ‘civilized’ mean time,” Ogle wrote.

Railroad timetables timetables were synchronized. And this time measurement profoundly altered the culture itself. The second part of the 19th century brought times of calendar reform. Even with calendars, The Gregorian calendar was presented as a "universal 'world calendar.'

With a uniform time scale, countries were able to compare one another. History became a discipline, with the comparisons across different ages. Also, time-drive, archeology and geology popped up as well.

Richard Kalina, art

"Historical times also helped create relations of difference by plotting the histories of nations and peoples onto a grid of universal, evolutionary time, thus situating national histories in a world of time," Ogle wrote.

The single most important intellectual device by which nineteenth-century observers gauged an interconnected and competitive world was comparison,” she wrote. “In this world, it was time that served to measure and establish difference.”

Countries that were less-developed were urged on, by their intelligentsia, to catch up. And at the personal level, people were encouraged by this more precisely define their own "rest time” in hours. “The bourgeoisie, by the rapid improvement of all instruments of production, by the immensely facilitated means of communication, draws all, even the most barbarian, nations into civilization,” she writes. “In one word, it creates a world after its own image.”

OTHER QUOTES AND NOTES

"The explanatory statement accompanying the law painted the picture of a world that was becoming smaller, in which exchange was proliferating and distances were diminished, and in which people, goods, and ideas incessantly crossed national borders. 'As long as life moved overwhelmingly in narrow circles,' the draft bill stated, 'as long as traffic from one place to another was slow and the exactitude of determining time only low, local times … were sufficient for every single locality.'"

"Globalization is understood here in its broadest sense as the process of forging sustained political, economic, social, and cultural interconnections, exchanges, and dependencies between world regions and states."

Globalization vs nationism: "The story of time reform thus raises perhaps the most challenging analytical question that every historian working on the global nineteenth and early twentieth centuries confronts: the relationship between increasing integration and connections between world regions and states on the one hand and the simultaneous rise of nationalism and powerful state apparatuses on the other."

\ Richard Kalina, art

"Social time, too, served as a location device of sorts. In the second half of the nineteenth century, workers and employers alike struggled over the meaning and division of social time, of work time and leisure, and the appropriate proportion between them. Assigning certain divisions of time-specific tasks such as 'work,' 'leisure,' and 'rest gave rise to a heightened awareness for efficient time management among these collectives."

"Arab intellectuals in the Levant urged their contemporaries to improve their time management in order for the 'Eastern' civilization to catch up with Europeans."

"Evolutionary thought, so intriguing in the second half of the nineteenth century even in parts of the non-Western world, lent itself particularly well to diachronic comparisons of different stages of biological, social, and cultural development and refinement and became an underlying epistemic tool in many fields of knowledge production."

Richard Kalina, art

"The German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche expressed this relationship in an aphorism in 1878: Age of Comparison. The less men are fettered by tradition, the greater is the fermentation of motivations within them, and the greater in consequence their outward restlessness, their mingling together with one another, the polyphony of their endeavors."

Richard Kalina, art

"Time, or the absence thereof, thus became a measure for comparing different levels of evolution, historical development, and positionality on a global scale."

"Assigning certain divisions of time-specific tasks such as 'work,' 'leisure,' and 'rest' gave rise to a heightened awareness for efficient time management among these collectives."

"In the non-Western world in particular, mechanical clocks thus became status symbols, displaying the owner’s keeping up with modern times."

"Modern-day historians writing in English mostly use 'standardization' when telling the story of adopting time zones. 'Standardization,' however, is by no means merely descriptive either but rather a historical term that predominated in the United States and rarely beyond."

"Calendar reform had started out as an effort to spread the Gregorian calendar but soon turned into a program for introducing a universal 'world calendar' across the globe."

"What scientists had in mind in devising a scheme for worldwide time zones was, after all, an incredibly ambitious project ... It was tremendously difficult even for lawmakers and at least moderately educated bureaucrats to imagine time as abstract and empty."

Artwork for this article from Richard Kalina.

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