The Biological Standard of Living in Europe and America, 1700–1900

Studies in Anthropometric History

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  • John Komlos, University of Munich, Germany
  • Series : Variorum Collected Studies Series: CS508
  • One can think of the average height reached at a particular age by individuals as the historical record of their nutritional experience. Medical research has confirmed that nutritional status – and thus physical stature – is related to food consumption and therefore to family income, and therefore to wages and to prices and therefore to the standard of living. Thus, height can be used as a proxy for these economic variables, even if it is also affected by the population's degree of urbanization and disease experience. Why should we be interested in this line of research? For example, anthropometric research can illuminate the well-being of some members of a society: women, children, aristocrats, subsistence farmers, and slaves, for whom market wages are seldom available. In addition, it has been shown that the biological standard of living can diverge from conventional indicators of well-being during the early stages of industrialization. The essays in this volume explore the well-being of diverse populations in Europe and America in the 18th and 19th centuries. Trends and cycles in height are explored among slaves, indentured servants, students in the West Point Military Academy, in the École Polytechnique (Paris), in The Citadel (Charleston, South Carolina), Carlschule (Stuttgart) as well as in the British and in the Austrian Army.

  • Contents: Anthropometric history: what is it?; On the significance of anthropometric history; Estimating trends in historical heights; The nutritional status of French students; A Malthusian episode revisited: the height of British and Irish servants in colonial America; The secular trend in the biological standard of living in the United Kingdom, 1730–1860; Further thoughts on the nutritional status of the British population; The growth of boys in the Stuttgart Carlschuhe, 1771–93; The standard of living of Jews in Austria–Hungary: the anthropometric evidence, 1860–1920; The age at menarche in Vienna: the relationship between nutrition and fertility; Patterns of children’s growth in East-Central Europe in the 18th century; Stature and nutrition in the Habsburg monarchy: the standard of living and economic development in the 18th century; The height and weight of West Point cadets: dietary change in antebellum America; Nutrition and economic development in post-reconstruction South Carolina; Toward an anthropometric history of African-Americans: the case of the free blacks in antebellum Maryland; The height of runaway slaves in colonial America, 1720–1770; Index.