As new networks of railways, steamships, and telegraph communications brought distant places into unprecedented proximity, previously minor discrepancies in local time-telling became a global problem. Vanessa Ogle’s chronicle of the struggle to standardize clock times and calendars from 1870 to 1950 highlights the many hurdles that proponents of uniformity faced in establishing international standards.
Time played a foundational role in nineteenth-century globalization. Growing interconnectedness prompted contemporaries to reflect on the annihilation of space and distance and to develop a global consciousness. Time—historical, evolutionary, religious, social, and legal—provided a basis for comparing the world’s nations and societies, and it established hierarchies that separated “advanced” from “backward” peoples in an age when such distinctions underwrote European imperialism.
Debates and disagreements on the varieties of time drew in a wide array of observers: German government officials, British social reformers, colonial administrators, Indian nationalists, Arab reformers, Muslim scholars, and League of Nations bureaucrats. Such exchanges often heightened national and regional disparities. The standardization of clock times therefore remained incomplete as late as the 1940s, and the sought-after unification of calendars never came to pass. The Global Transformation of Time reveals how globalization was less a relentlessly homogenizing force than a slow and uneven process of adoption and adaptation that often accentuated national differences.
The powerful lesson of Ogle’s book is how the gradual global transformation of time over the course of the twentieth century came to suit many different parties, all of whom thought they had something to gain from new modes of integration and connectivity. The process we anachronistically call ‘globalization,’ Vanessa Ogle shows, was made up of forces that often used international means to solve national or parochial problems.
Ogle is more interested in the ways in which the concept of global time helped create what she calls a ‘global imagination,’ in which peoples and societies could be understood as parts of a single, developing world system. In this way, Ogle argues, the standardization of time reflected and reproduced the world’s European-led power hierarchies. International clocks and calendars united the world, but they also revealed and sometimes reinforced its inequities.
Today, we take our global system of timekeeping largely for granted… Yet in her imaginative and thought-provoking new book The Global Transformation of Time: 1870–1950, Vanessa Ogle reminds us that standardization and simultaneity had to be invented… Ogle’s formidable work contributes to a new history of political economy which takes seriously the ideas, values, and acts of violence behind the emergence of global capitalism.
How exactly horological chaos gave way to order is the subject of Ogle’s accessible and prodigiously researched book…Ogle has insightful things to say about many topics, from the role of cosmopolitan ports in disseminating new kinds of timepieces, to Islamic calendars, to the curiously moralizing tone of early discussions of using daylight savings schemes to prevent people from squandering precious sunshine hours. Perhaps her most important contribution is to show, via discussion of the various ways that power relations shaped debates relating to time, how foolish it is to view globalization, in any period, as a smooth, value-free process of flattening out.
With impressive breadth, imagination, and originality, Ogle has produced an important and genuinely global history of time that reveals the rhythms, directions, unevenness, and contradictory consequences of what we now call globalization.
Writing global history is still a high-stakes venture, and Ogle’s The Global Transformation of Time is an impressive testimony to the potential of the genre. We get a deep sense of the talk about time and calendars among transnational experts and politicians as well as the everyday intelligence that produced differentiated time regimes—times for travel, for work, for leisure, for religious practice or, as may be, for milking cows—across the globe in Berlin and Beirut, London and Bombay, and their rural hinterlands. Reading this book is a tremendous intellectual pleasure from beginning to end.
Globalization is all the rage in the 21st century. What technology and cultural factors led to this shrinking world? One of the factors often overlooked, even taken for granted, is our system of uniform time…The progressives who advocated for uniform time found themselves dealing with nationalism, regionalism, and colonialism, as well as resistance from labor, religion, and other groups with a vested interest in the status quo. Ogle provides an intriguing glimpse into the machinations that led to the globalization of time.
- 2015, Winner of the Berkshire Conference of Women Historians First Book Prize
- 2016, Winner of the George Louis Beer Prize
- 288 pages
- 6-1/8 x 9-1/4 inches
- Harvard University Press
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