Measuring difference, numbering normal

Setting the standards for disability in the interwar period

By Coreen McGuire

Measuring difference, numbering normal

Book Information

  • Format: Hardcover
  • ISBN: 978-1-5261-4317-4
  • Pages: 248
  • Publisher: Manchester University Press
  • Price: £25.00
  • Published Date: August 2020
  • BIC Category: Humanities / Social & cultural history, Medicine / History of medicine, Mathematics & science / History of science, MEDICAL / History, HISTORY / Social History, TECHNOLOGY & ENGINEERING / History, HISTORY / Modern / 20th Century, History of Medicine
  • Series: Disability History


This book is available as an open access ebook under a CC-BY licence.

Measurements, and their manipulation, have been underestimated as crucial historical forces motivating and guiding the way we think about disability.

Using measurement technology as a lens, and examining in particular the measurement of hearing and breathing, this book draws together several existing discussions on disability, phenomenology, healthcare, medical practice, big data, embodiment, and emerging medical and scientific technologies around the turn of the twentieth century. These are popular topics of scholarly attention but have not, until now, been considered as interconnected topics within a single book. As such, this work connects several important, and usually separate academic subject areas and historical specialisms. The standards embedded in instrumentation created strict, but, ultimately arbitrary thresholds of what is categorised as normal and abnormal. Considering these standards from a long historical perspective reveals how these dividing lines shifted when pushed.


'Measuring Difference, Numbering Normal is a valuable contribution to a vibrant discussion at the intersection of STS and disability studies, speaking directly to work by Lundy Braun, Mara Mills, and Jaipreet Virdi. It speaks too to STS work on quantification and the normalising of privileged bodies, as in the writings of Michelle Murphy and Jacqueline Wernimont.'
Social History of Medicine


1 Numbering normal
2 Measuring disability
3 The artificial ear and the disability data gap
4 The audiometer and the medicalization of hearing loss
5 The spirometer and the normal subjects
6 The respirator and the mechanization of normal breathing
7 Measuring ourselves



Coreen McGuire is Lecturer in Twentieth-Century British History at Durham University

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