This book is a history of an illusion. It is also a history of the dream that preceded the illusion. The book discusses statistics as the field of tension between the scientific claims of neutrality and universality on the one hand and the political and economic reality of the conflicting interests of nation-states on the other. The various paths of state- and nation-building that European countries traversed in the nineteenth century are recognisable in the objectives of government statistics and are reflected in the topics selected for statistical study and in the categories used in the research. Each congress was clearly dominated by the specific interests of the country in which the statisticians convened. The book shows in each case how the organisation of government statistics and national concerns influenced the international agenda. It describes the perceptions, goals and dilemmas of the protagonists and their contact with each other, and in so doing unravels the complex relationships between science, government and society, wherever possible from their point of view. The genesis of international statistics was inspired by a desire for reform. Belgium's pioneering role in the European statistical movement was informed both by its liberal polity and the special status of statistics within it, and by Adolphe Quetelet's key position as an intellectual. The consolidation of the Grand Duchy of Baden, a new medium-sized state in the Rhine Confederation and later in the German Confederation, offered great opportunities for the development of official statistics.
In the Napoleonic Age, statistics became an established part of the administrative repertoire. 'Statistical research,' wrote the Frenchman Alfred Legoyt in 1860, 'leads to the discovery of the laws of the moral world as sure as astronomical observations lead to the establishment of laws in the physical world'. The Belgian Adolphe Quetelet was the initiator of the first international statistical congress, which was held in Brussels in 1853. The international statistical congresses soon had to abandon their cosmopolitan character and, to the confusion and annoyance of statisticians themselves, became the battleground for national interests. The chapter also presents an overview of the concepts discussed in this book. The book describes the perceptions, goals and dilemmas of the protagonists and their contact with each other and traces the international statistical congresses held in various European cities between 1853 and 1876.
In September 1853 Brussels was for a short time the centre of statistics. This chapter is concerned with the key role of Adolphe Quetelet, who was the Statistical Society's official correspondent. Belgium's pioneering role in the European statistical movement was informed both by its liberal polity and the special status of statistics within it, and by Quetelet's key position as an intellectual. Quetelet and Auguste Visschers launched the proposal at the meeting of the Central Commission for Statistics of 11 July 1851. Given their value to statisticians, it is no wonder that the implementation and refinement of the census and population registers was an important item on the agenda of the international statistical congress in Brussels. In the congress programme that was dispatched in the spring of 1853, the census was high on the list of discussion topics, second only to the organisation of statistics in general.
In 1855 Parisians believed that their city was the centre of the world. Carl Friedrich Wilhelm Dieterici, who represented the Prussian kingdom in 1855 as he had in 1853, observed a bellicose mood among the French. The absence of the peacemaker, Adolphe Quetelet, may be one reason for Dieterici's about-face and less-than-conciliatory attitude towards the French. Quetelet wrote about Charles Dupin's graphical innovation in his journal, Correspondance mathématique et physique, and announced that an education map of the Netherlands was being prepared. Dupin's linear progress diktat was well suited to the Napoleonic climate. In many ways, Napoleonic statistics foreshadowed the form that statistics would take as the nineteenth century progressed. By the time the second international statistical congress began in 1855, statistics had acquired a permanent place in the machinery of government, in the academies and in public opinion in France.
The year 1857 was the last carefree year of the Austrian Empire, geographically the second largest state in Europe after Russia. Austria was an obvious choice to host the third international statistical congress. Under the inspired leadership of Karl von Czoernig, statistics quickly became a valued service in the administrative apparatus of the monarchy. His aim was to position himself internationally as an authoritative statistician with a mission. Financial statistics was a subject that captured the particular attention of the Austrian government. In addition to finance and ethnography, the main topics of the third international statistical congress were education, industry, mortality, hospitals and nursing homes, criminal and civil law, the allocation of land ownership and rates. The third international statistical congress in Vienna continued along the course set by the Paris congress.
London was the fountainhead of international statistics. When the fourth international statistical congress was held in London in 1860, there was no one better suited to opening the proceedings than Prince Albert. In 1859, on behalf of the statistics community Adolphe Quetelet invited the Prince to attend the forthcoming congress. Albert began by focusing on the congress's public and national character, which was entirely consistent with the high intensity of political life in Britain where every important issue was debated in the public arena. Quetelet was the first to address the congress after all the national and colonial reports had been presented in the plenary sessions. In addition to Quetelet's sixth section on the nature and methods of statistics, there were five other sections on civil and criminal statistics; health; agriculture, mining, textiles and railways; economic statistics; and the census and related population statistics.
Berlin underwent a period of prodigious growth in the mid-nineteenth century. If there had ever been a moment in the history of the international statistical congress when it could be elevated to a higher plane, then it was 1863, in Berlin. Ernst Engel, the director of the Prussian statistical bureau, was intent on making the Berlin congress a resounding success. Baden was one of the states that took some interest in the resolutions adopted by the international statistical congress. The Baden government was closely involved in the initiatives introduced at the congresses in Vienna in 1857 and Berlin in 1863 with respect to a common system of statistics in Germany. Of all the major themes that would be addressed at the congress, the most innovative theme was the role of statistics in mutual assistance and insurance. Mutual assistance was, in Engel's view, a step towards economic autonomy and independence.
When Florence hosted the sixth international statistical congress in the autumn of 1867, the city had been the capital of the newly united Italy for just three years. There were to be eight sections of the Florence congress: theory and technology of statistics, topography, agricultural statistics, municipal statistics, monetary statistics, moral and judicial statistics, military statistics and education. The Florentine congress was an opportunity for the liberal elite of the new Italian nation to present themselves to the rest of Europe, and to one another. There was but one outcome to be expected from the study of those historical accounts: a national statistics that would lay the foundation for liberal reform policies. The European ambitions of some of the Italian delegates were a relic of early liberal nationalism but were out of touch with the realism that began to dictate international relations after 1860.
People arriving from Paris, London, St Petersburg, Vienna, Brussels, Rome or Berlin, like the foreign guests of the seventh international statistical congress, would have thought they had landed in a provincial town. Simon Vissering and Marie Matthieu von Baumhauer were familiar faces to the regular participants of the international statistical congress. The Dutch government had good reason to put Vissering and Von Baumhauer in charge when the congress came to The Hague. Much of the brainpower came from Von Baumhauer, who presented the preparatory commission with an Idées-mères, a grand scheme encompassing organisational matters and congress topics. Von Baumhauer and Vissering achieved in The Hague what they had set out to accomplish: to limit the number of topics, limit the number of participants from the host country, give ample attention to theory and methodology and create a place for colonial statistics.
The international statistical congresses in St Petersburg in 1872 and Budapest in 1876 tackled the issue of using graphics in statistics. The congress in St Petersburg was delayed by the Franco-Prussian War of 1870-1871, but in August of 1872 representatives of every country in Europe made their way to the Russian capital. The attempts made by the international statistics community to streamline their organisation by establishing a 'supranational' permanent commission, were at odds with the inward orientation of national governments. The proposal to establish a permanent commission dated from the Berlin congress too, but nothing had come of it. Petr Petrovich Semenov believed that the solution was to improve the distribution of tasks among 'producers' and 'consumers' of statistics. He believed that the best results could be achieved by establishing a permanent commission, based on the ideas put forward by Ernst Engel in Berlin in 1863.