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Stephen Mihm
University of Georgia (Athens, GA 30602-0001)
Industrial and Technical Standards in Modern Life: A History

Research and writing leading to a book on the history, from the late eighteenth century to the present, of the industrial and technical standards that enable modern life.

In the twenty-first century, standards govern everything from screw threads to internet traffic. By imposing uniformity across time and space, standards enable complex technological and economic systems to function with some semblance of predictability. This, however, is a recent development. Few standards existed before the late nineteenth century aside from fundamental standards of weight and measure. This book scrutinizes the fabric of our everyday lives to show how the ubiquitous standards that now surround us–seemingly neutral, natural, and timeless--have a fascinating, if controversial, history. Along the way, it profiles the engineers and experts who used standards to consolidate markets and machines into larger, unified systems. These forgotten visionaries sought to bring order out of modernity’s chaos. In no small measure they succeeded. This book tells their story.

Project fields:
Economic History; History and Philosophy of Science, Technology, and Medicine; U.S. History

Public Scholars

Research Programs

$60,000 (approved)
$60,000 (awarded)

Grant period:
1/1/2019 – 12/31/2019