Measuring difference, numbering normal

Setting the standards for disability in the interwar period

By Coreen McGuire

Measuring difference, numbering normal


  • Hardcover

Book Information

  • Format: eBook
  • ISBN: 978-1-5261-4318-1
  • Publisher: Manchester University Press
  • Published Date: February 2021
  • BIC Category: Medicine / History of medicine, Humanities / Social & cultural history, HISTORY / Modern / 20th Century, TECHNOLOGY & ENGINEERING / History, HISTORY / Social History, MEDICAL / History, Mathematics & science / History of science
  • 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.


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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