Last year, the return of blue passports was touted as a symbol of Britain taking back control following Brexit. Some in government would now like to see Britain’s imperial measurements make a comeback. As part of a review on EU laws still in place after Brexit, the government plans to remove a ban on selling goods using only imperial units.
The collective memory of many eurosceptics is that the metric system was imposed by Europe in the 1970s upon an unwilling British public. There was political turmoil over quotidian tasks – buying milk and beer in litres rather than in pints. Metric measurements made European integration seem very real, close to home and highly undesirable to some.
A succession of European directives on measurements crystallised and maintained the sceptical view that Brussels was forcing even the Queen to obey European laws. Politicians pointed to Brussels compulsorily replacing pints and inches with litres and metres as evidence that joining Europe meant a loss of British identity.
In fact, metrication was not imposed on Britain after joining the EEC in 1975. British industrialists lobbied politicians to commit to a programme on metrication in the 1960s. The commitment to metrication and currency decimalisation precedes Britain’s entry into the European Common Market. But measurement systems have long been used as convenient tools and symbols for political ends.
The English state had unsuccessfully attempted to introduce standardised measurements at least since the Magna Carta of 1225. Indeed, the traditional imperial measurements in the form we recognise today only date to 1824, with the passage of the Weights and Measures Act.
A select committee of the British parliament in 1758 sought to remove the “despotic influence” of tradition from the British measurement system. But successive legislative reforms of Britain’s measurements in 19th century consistently rejected the decimal metric system.
Ironically, since 1960 all measurement systems worldwide – including the British and US imperial systems – are calibrated to the Système International d’Unités (SI) which in turn are based on the historical metric system devised in France during the 1790s. Continue reading “Return of imperial system on cards for Brexit Britain – measurements have always been political”
From spies, lies and doublethink to revolutionary conspiracies, here are this week’s top picks in imperial and global history.Continue reading “This Week’s Top Picks in Imperial & Global History”
History Department, University of Exeter
Our friends and colleagues at British, Irish and Empire Studies at the University of Texas at Austin (Prof. Philippa Levine, Director) have announced their full lineup for this term’s virtual speaker series on ‘Black Britain’. Further details (including a link to register, etc.) below. UK readers, please note that the first seminar is this evening (6pm GMT).Continue reading “Black Britain Virtual Speaker Series (starting 4 Oct.)”
From the captive photograph to Cold War disinformation, here are this week’s top picks in imperial and global history.Continue reading “This Week’s Top Picks in Imperial & Global History”
Centre for Imperial and Global History Research Seminars
All seminars take place at 3.30pm-5.00pm, and are currently scheduled live and on-campus
Wednesday 22 September (Week 1), 3.30pm-5.00pm:
CIGH Social and Welcome Back to Campus
We welcome new and returning researchers back to campus and celebrate the start of the new term. Wine, nibbles, and cake provided!
Wednesday 06 October (Week 3), 3.30pm-5.00pm:
Margot Tudor, University of Exeter
‘Testing the Waters: Experiments in an International Military, 1946-1955’
Wednesday 20 October (Week 5), 3.30pm-5.00pm:
Myles Osborne, University of Colorado Boulder
‘Mau Mau and Jamaica: An African War in the Caribbean’
Wednesday 03 November (Week 7), 3.30pm-5.00pm:
Henry Knight-Lozano, University of Exeter
‘Emulation and Empire: California, Hawai‘i, and U.S. Settler Colonialism in the Late Nineteenth Century’
Wednesday 17 November (Week 9), 3.30pm-5.00pm:
Alexander Keese, Université de Genève
‘Writing a global history of forced labour in the 19th and 20th centuries – between the megatrends and two micro-laboratories of plantation labour (São Tomé e Príncipe, Suriname).’ N.B. we will assemble together on campus with Prof. Keese streaming in live from Geneva.
Wednesday 1 December (Week 11), 3.30pm-5.00pm:
Postgraduate Research Symposium
Three Exeter PGRs working on Imperial and Global History share works in progress. More details to follow soon!
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