Posted by Ed
This week's New Yorker features a fascinating article on anthropometric history--the study of how certain physical characteristics (most prominently, height) have changed with time, and of what this says about the health and wealth of the populations being studied. The article discusses a fascinating fact, that the average height of native-born Americans has quit increasing since the mid-twentieth century, while the average height of Europeans has continued to grow; this disparity may be the result of inferior pre- and post-natal care in the U.S. (along with the unhealthy diet of American teenagers.) The article also looks at other changes in height over time:
I wish that this article had discussed the scholarship connected to anthropometric history in more detail. It's fascinating stuff, though I get the sense that the science is more complicated than the article gives it credit for, and that it's more difficult to discuss its significance than the author of this piece believes. (What's more, it can be hard to find all the necessary data on height in the past.) Even so, The New Yorker has published an entertaining article on one of the more esoteric branches of social history, with a nice profile of one of that branch's pioneers.
Update: If you're dying to learn more about anthropometric history, the April 2004 issue of the journal Social History of Medicine includes a review of the book Classics in Anthropometric History (edited by John Komlos and Timothy Cuff). (The site I've linked to includes a pdf of the review, which discusses the history of the field.) The Spring 1999 issue of Slavic Review features several articles on anthropometric studies of the Soviet Union; this website includes abstracts of the articles.Posted by Ed at March 29, 2004 01:06 PM