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FW: 7/28/2004 Daily Report from The Chronicle of Higher Education

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  • Popplestone, Ann
    ACADEME TODAY: The Chronicle of Higher Education s Daily Report for subscribers ______________________________________________________________ [snip] MAGAZINES
    Message 1 of 1 , Jul 28, 2004
      ACADEME TODAY: The Chronicle of Higher Education's
      Daily Report for subscribers



      A glance at the summer issue of "Social Science History": Taking
      the measure of ourselves

      If you think economics has become hopelessly abstract and
      disconnected from human experience, you may not know that some
      scholars in the field spend their time measuring dusty,
      900-year-old femurs. Dozens of economic historians are engaged
      in a worldwide study of centuries-old skeletons, searching for
      evidence of disease, violence, hard labor, and nutritional

      The skeleton project is one facet of the burgeoning field of
      "anthropometric studies" -- the analysis of height, life
      expectancy, and caloric consumption, among other gauges, with
      the goal of illuminating how various climates, political
      regimes, and economic systems have reshaped the human body.

      The summer issue of this journal, published by Duke University
      Press, is devoted to such work. Among the raw data cited in its
      pages: the height measurements of female Irish convicts deported
      to Australia in the early 19th century, the child-mortality rate
      in Victorian London, and the protein consumption of
      early-20th-century Americans.

      One of the field's central findings is that people's physical
      well-being is closely associated with economic growth. But that
      correlation is hardly a clean and linear one. During the first
      half of the 19th century, a period of industrialization and
      boom, citizens of the United States, Britain, and the
      Netherlands were generally shorter than their 18th-century
      grandparents, suggesting that young children's growth was more
      frequently stunted by malnutrition and illness.

      "This is one of the important insights we've made during the
      last two decades," says John Komlos, a professor of economics at
      the University of Munich and one of the journal's two guest
      editors. "The onset of modern economic growth had an impact on
      the human organism that we had not known about earlier.
      Industrialization had hidden costs, even in resource-rich

      That decline, which is known within the field as the "antebellum
      puzzle," has several potential explanations. People were
      streaming into London, New York, and other cities that had poor
      sanitation and unreliable supplies of clean water. Urbanization
      increased dependence on wage income, and fewer people had plots
      of land on which to grow their own food. And even in rural
      areas, the steamship and the railroad meant that viruses and
      other infections could spread extremely rapidly. (One recent
      study cited in the journal suggests that Union recruits in the
      Civil War who had been born in counties with canals, navigable
      rivers, or coastlines were shorter than those who came from
      more-isolated counties.)

      Read a longer version of this article at

      More information about the journal is available at


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