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The Origins of Anthropometric History: A Personal Memoir

  • Roderick Floud


I knew nothing of anthropometry—not even the meaning of the word—when, in 1977, Robert Fogel invited me to give a seminar at Harvard. Over lunch after quite a grueling occasion, he asked me if I would be interested in taking part in a project to investigate the long-term decline in mortality in the United States. As he pointed out, the vast majority of migrants to the American colonies and the United States in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries came from Great Britain and Ireland; it was important, in explaining their subsequent mortality experience, to be able to assess their state of health before they arrived in North America. Their heights and those of the British population as a whole might, he suggested, provide evidence for such an assessment.

I was flattered to be asked to work with one of the leaders of the economic history profession, intrigued by the project—if initially skeptical about the use of height data—and, by the end of a long lunch, enthusiastic about working with Fogel and his collaborator, Stan Engerman, whom I had known for some years.



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Engerman, S. (1997) “The standard of living debate in international perspective: Measures and indicators,” in Steckel, R. H. and Floud, R. (eds.) Health and Welfare during Industrialization. Chicago: University of Chicago Press: 1746.
Floud, R., and Wachter, K. (1982) “Poverty and physical stature: Evidence on the standard of living of London boys, 1770–1870.” Social Science History 6: 422–52.
Floud, R., Wachter, K., and Gregory, A. (1990) Height, Health, and History: Nutritional Status in the United Kingdom, 1750–1980. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Johnson, P., and Nicholas, S. (1995) “Male and female living standards in England and Wales, 1812–1857: Evidence from criminal height records.” Economic History Review 48: 470–81. (Reprinted in Komlos and Cuff 1998.)
Johnson, P., and Nicholas, S. (1997) “Health and welfare of women in the United Kingdom, 1785–1920,” in Steckel, R. H. and Floud, R. (eds.) Health and Welfare during Industrialization. Chicago: University of Chicago Press: 201–50.
Komlos, J., ed. (1995) The Biological Standard of Living on Three Continents: Further Explorations in Anthropometric History. Boulder, CO: Westview.
Komlos, J., and Baten, J., eds. (1998) The Biological Standard of Living in Comparative Perspective. Stuttgart: Franz Steiner.
Komlos, J., and Cuff, T., eds. (1998) Classics in Anthropometric History. St. Katharinen, Germany: Scripta Mercaturae.
Lindert, P. (1994) “Unequal living standards,” in Floud, R. and McCloskey, D. (eds.) The Economic History of Britain since 1700. Vol. 1. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press: 357–86.
Mokyr, J., and Gráda, C. Ó (1996) “Height and health in the United Kingdom, 1815–1860: Evidence from the East India Company Army.” Explorations in Economic History 33: 141–68. (Reprinted in Komlos and Cuff 1998.)
Nicholas, S., and Oxley, D. (1993) “The living standards of women during the Industrial Revolution, 1795–1820.” Economic History Review 46: 723–49. (Reprinted in Komlos and Cuff 1998.)
Steckel, R., and Floud, R., eds. (1997) Health and Welfare during Industrialization. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.
Steckel, R., and Rose, J. (2002) The Backbone of History: Health and Nutrition in the Western Hemisphere. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Waaler, H. T. (1984) “Height, weight and mortality: The Norwegian experience.” Acta Medica Scandinavica 679 (supp.): 156.


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