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.