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.
The first meeting: Brussels 1853
he genesis of international statistics was inspired by a desire for reform.
At the Great Exhibition of 1851 AdolpheQuetelet, born in Ghent in
1796, recognised that Europe was on the cusp of great economic and scientific breakthroughs. Knowledge about the changes taking place was of primary
importance if the pace of reform and balance in society were to be maintained.
Statistics could provide the information required, but there was no shared body
of knowledge about statistics. In Europe, statisticians did not know how
-takers and the people, which brought with it a range of disruptive influences. Precision was the goal, but tainted information was frequently
Methodical to a fault, most statisticians tried to invent solutions for every
potential problem in advance. The first phase of their dream involved collecting uniform data, by country and, if possible, for all of Europe. They exchanged
information with each other, sharing the results of their research as well as their
ideas about organising the science of statistics and its objects.
The Belgian AdolpheQuetelet was the
On waves of passion: London 1860
ondon was the fountainhead of international statistics. AdolpheQuetelet
enjoyed visiting the British capital. Early in his career he had discovered that
many British thinkers shared his vision of statistics. He had a hand in the establishment of the Statistical Section (Section F) of the British Association for the
Advancement of Science and the Statistical Society of London. In 1851 he chose
the Great Exhibition of London as the stage for launching the European statistical congress. He expected the British to be very
as well as that of major roads, railroads and canals.
While this may have been a useful suggestion, it was not an ingenious idea of a
great scientist (which he clearly thought he was).2
The absence of the peacemaker, AdolpheQuetelet, may be one reason for
Dieterici’s about-face and less-than-conciliatory attitude towards the French.
The great pioneer of European statistics had suffered a stroke in July 1855 and
was too ill to travel. Quetelet was a master at engineering compromises and
striking the right tone. His absence was nearly as palpable as his presence
brief eulogy for Christian David, who had represented Denmark since
1853. Others paid homage to Samuel Brown, Hermann Schwabe, director of the
Berlin statistical bureau, and Edouard Horn, who had only recently returned to
States and statistics in the nineteenth century
Hungary, his home country after roving around Europe.
But the man who was missed most of all was, of course, AdolpheQuetelet.
He made his final appearance in St Petersburg, where he tried one last time
to explain the principles of probability to his most
scale, which was originally invented by AdolpheQuetelet (1796–1874). Quetelet was a mathematician and astronomer who introduced statistical methods to the social sciences. 60 He did pioneering work in what we would now term cross-sectional-style studies of human growth, and developed ‘the Quetelet index’, a formula that estimated whether a person was healthy by dividing their weight by height in metres squared. This method of measuring health was dubbed the ‘Body Mass Index’ by Ancel Keys in 1972. But its ancestor the Quetelet Index was developed and used by
internationalism reveals how, by
the late nineteenth century, ideas about ‘nationality’ and ‘nationhood’ had
become central ways of interpreting the world. Activists were at pains to
stress that ‘nationalism’ and ‘internationalism’ were not conflicting ideologies. The sociologist AdolpheQuetelet offers a case in point. As organiser of
the first International Statistical Congress in Brussels (1853), he made an
early contribution to internationalism in Belgium.1 However, in his work Du
Système social et des lois qui le régissent, Quetelet sounded a cautious note.
Practising sentimentalism and romanticism in criminal court
Romantic Revolution: A History (New York, NY: Modern Library, 2012).
72 Kevin Donnelly, AdolpheQuetelet, Social Physics and the Average Men of Science, 1796–1874 (London: Pickering & Chatto, 2015), pp. 37–8.
73 Cf. Jan Goldstein’s characterisation of Victor Cousin as a ‘generic romantic’: Goldstein, The Post-Revolutionary Self , p. 155.
74 Cited in Donnelly, AdolpheQuetelet , p. 37.
75 Reddy, ‘Sentimentalism and its erasure’.
76 See e.g. the poem cited in Jan Frans Willems, Verhandeling over de Nederduytsche tael- en letterkunde, opzigtelyk de
claims, among them Ducpétiaux. None became more famous for doing so than AdolpheQuetelet, the so-called ‘father’ of social statistics. Influenced by natural science – Quetelet was an astronomer and mathematician by education – he sought to explain crime through statistical ‘laws’. He proposed that there was an ‘average man’ in each time and society, whose behaviour was typical for the whole nation. Using crime statistics, Quetelet investigated the probability that a person would commit a crime under similar circumstances, particularly attending to seasons, climate