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Week 7. Measures

This week is all about what is there and how much of it there is. There will be heat! There will be light! There will be instruments! We will discuss how long a metre is and how long a second takes, and why.

What to do during week 7

  • Business as usual this week!
  • We will probably not be recording/streaming Tuesday's guest conversation, will update.
  • Next week we will start the process of preparing your blogs for assessment. For now, continue to focus on these as tools for learning and feedback!

Lecture Slides

Unit 7 slides (login required)


Critical Thinking

  1. Pay attention to what and when you measure things in your daily life. How do you take and use measurements? What tools or instruments do you use? How do you determine that you have measured something well or accurately or precisely enough?
  2. Note what measurements you use that you do not perform for yourself. How do you assess the validity or reliability of others’ measurements?
  3. Think about units. How do you know how long a metre is? How long a second is? How much a gram weighs? Where do these come from? What difference do units make to your life? Do you ever have to convert between units to use or make sense of a measurement? Have you ever travelled somewhere that uses units that are unfamiliar to you?

Reading Guide

The resource list contains a number of writings about scientific instruments: Warner, Taub (several), Bud, Morris et al.

Some general works about measurement and science: Wise et al (pick a couple chapters, many great options!), Latour.

Measurement in specific disciplines: Schaffer (astronomy), Anderson (Victorian meteorology), Golinski (meteorology in the Enlightenment), Smith (alchemy and economics), Braun (medicine), Rabinbach (physiology), Canales (physiology and some related fields), Chang (chemistry), Newman and Principe (chymistry).

Measurement in engineering disciplines: Alder, Mukerji, MacKenzie.

A major focus of the history of measurement has been the physics and engineering of energy: Sibum, Smith, Staley, Galison.


A. For measurements to be useful, their producers and users must agree on a common system of standards or references. Referring to course materials, identify and discuss a historical example of the challenges of establishing a shared standard measure or a conflict between competing standards.

B. Identify and discuss an example from the course materials of something once considered unmeasurable that became measurable in a specific historical context. What about that context made people want to measure this thing, and how did they go about measuring it? What about related contexts made it appear unmeasurable or not worth measuring?

C. Identify a tool or instrument of measurement from the course materials and situate it in a relevant historical context of development or use.

D. Measuring an entity or phenomenon can be said to change it in some essential way. Identify and discuss an example from of this from the course materials.

intro/measures.txt · Last modified: 2024/03/01 16:15 by mjb