The politics of measurement

Sir John F. W. Herschel wrote to the East Indian Company on 5 November 1867. He argued against the adoption of the metric system for weights and measures in India (recommended in the Report of the Bengal Committee, 23 Aug 1866, which cited Herschel in a way that he felt completely misrepresented his position, which was anti-metric and “diametrically opposed” to the conclusions of the Report, “that the French metric system ought to be adopted exclusively and in its integrity for general use in India.”) After laying out a lengthy argument, defending the mathematical integrity of the British system, Herschel made a more nationalistic appeal:

For, whatever may be the efforts of the Committee who are agitating in England for the expulsion of our national and the adoption of the French system, and however a few scientific men, and especially Chemists, may consider that by the habitual use of the latter in their writings they shew themselves superior to antiquated or national prejudice, we may rest assured that nothing will ever induce British shopkeepers, farmers, and their customers to buy and sell by the metre, kilogramme, and litre; or British proprietors to alter their title deeds and measure their land by the Hectare.

Just another way in which science and empire were intertwined.

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