New Books in the Society of Fellows
Celebrating Recent Work by Rebecca Woods, Matthew Jones, and William Deringer
As Britain industrialized in the early nineteenth century, animal breeders faced the need to convert livestock into products while maintaining the distinctive character of their breeds. Thus they transformed cattle and sheep adapted to regional environments into bulky, quick-fattening beasts. Exploring the environmental and economic ramifications of imperial expansion on colonial environments and production practices, Rebecca J. H. Woods traces how global physiological and ecological diversity eroded under the technological, economic, and cultural system that grew up around the production of livestock by the British Empire. Attending to the relationship between type and place and what it means to call a particular breed of livestock "native," Woods highlights the inherent tension between consumer expectations in the metropole and the ecological reality at the periphery.
Based on extensive archival work in the United Kingdom, New Zealand, and Australia, this study illuminates the connections between the biological consequences and the politics of imperialism. In tracing both the national origins and imperial expansion of British breeds, Woods uncovers the processes that laid the foundation for our livestock industry today.
Calculated Values: Finance, Politics, and the Quantitative Age
By: William Deringer
Modern political culture features a deep-seated faith in the power of numbers to find answers, settle disputes, and explain how the world works. Whether evaluating economic trends, measuring the success of institutions, or divining public opinion, we are told that numbers don’t lie. But numbers have not always been so revered. Calculated Values traces how numbers first gained widespread public authority in one nation, Great Britain.
Into the seventeenth century, numerical reasoning bore no special weight in political life. Complex calculations were often regarded with suspicion, seen as the narrow province of navigators, bookkeepers, and astrologers, not gentlemen. This changed in the decades following the Glorious Revolution of 1688. Though Britons’ new quantitative enthusiasm coincided with major advances in natural science, financial capitalism, and the power of the British state, it was no automatic consequence of those developments, William Deringer argues. Rather, it was a product of politics—ugly, antagonistic, partisan politics. From Parliamentary debates to cheap pamphlets, disputes over taxes, trade, and national debt were increasingly conducted through calculations. Some of the era’s most pivotal political moments, like the 1707 Union of England and Scotland and the 1720 South Sea Bubble, turned upon calculative conflicts.
As Britons learned to fight by the numbers, they came to believe, as one calculator wrote in 1727, that “facts and figures are the most stubborn evidences.” Yet the authority of numbers arose not from efforts to find objective truths that transcended politics, but from the turmoil of politics itself.
From Blaise Pascal in the 1600s to Charles Babbage in the first half of the nineteenth century, inventors struggled to create the first calculating machines. All failed—but that does not mean we cannot learn from the trail of ideas, correspondence, machines, and arguments they left behind.
In Reckoning with Matter, Matthew L. Jones draws on the remarkably extensive and well-preserved records of the quest to explore the concrete processes involved in imagining, elaborating, testing, and building calculating machines. He explores the writings of philosophers, engineers, and craftspeople, showing how they thought about technical novelty, their distinctive areas of expertise, and ways they could coordinate their efforts. In doing so, Jones argues that the conceptions of creativity and making they exhibited are often more incisive—and more honest—than those that dominate our current legal, political, and aesthetic culture.