Post 394 – by Gautam Shah 


We define objects and happenings primarily with measures. Measures when combined with time show the changes that occur in things. Measures are very important in recording and recreating events and happenings, through their start, duration, termination, and the rate at which these actualize.

Roman Weight of stone

Measures define things in terms of lengths, areas, volumes or weights. Measures offer comparative scaling for sensorial perceptions, define load and work capacities, and determine reach and occupancy in space.

Human body limb sizes, reach and capacities -Basis of early measure systems

There was a time, when things were measured in terms of body sizes and capacities. Long distances were measured for the travel time required, like in lunch breaks or night halts. Short distances were measured in arm lengths, cubit (the length from the elbow to the tip of the middle finger), or foot steps of the traveller. Still smaller sizes were measured with the palm, breadth of a hand, length of a finger, or width of a thumb. Finer widths were measured in terms barley grains. Volumetric measures were the holding capacity of a limb like pinch or palm. Weights were measured in grains, fruits or stone pebbles, or in terms of carrying or displacement capacity of a person or animal, such as head load, a cart load, horsepower.

A common unit of weight in Ethiopia was the load – a simple measure of the amount carried by a beast of burden such as a camel

Measures are comparative facts. A thing to be measured is compared (equated) with something similar, familiar, or with a thing that has already been calibrated. Measures based on body sizes or capacities had many individual, racial and regional variations. Other standards were changeable and perishable. These units of measures were not replicable (recreate-able) and comparable. There was no hierarchical relationship between large and small measures. The conversion from one unit size to another was, often very illogical.

During the Middle Ages, major cities had their own set of measures and the public availability of these standards allowed visiting merchants to comply with local regulations. The official Viennese ell length standards for verifying the measure of different types of cloth sold are embedded in the cathedral wall, to the left of the main entrance. The linen ell, also called Viennese yard, (89.6 centimeters (35.3 in)) and the drapery ell (77.6 centimeters (30.6 in)) length standards consist of two iron bars.

The differences were somehow equated in barter trading between neighbours. But the same process was proving to be very difficult for trade with far of regions and transacted in some form of monetary units. There was an acute need for some common measure system. Gradually each trading block concurred to a common tradition of nominal measurements. Many different localized or regional measure systems flourished. Conversion between adjunct systems was not very difficult, as the trade occurred comparatively in small lots. Conversion of measures with adjoining trade regions was managed by intermediaries like brokers, caravan masters and shippers. The inconsistencies of the measure conversions were partly solved with monetary pricing replacing the bartered trading. The monetary trade system came to replace the barter trading, where only ‘universally’ measured goods were evaluated in a primary standard like gold.

Caravan Traders exchanging goods

At places things were transformed to different measure systems. Like grains were measured by volume (bushel) than by weight. Textiles were traded by weight than by lengths. Liquids (oils) were sold by volume. Yet, measure systems were mutually incompatible. To compound the problem each system had a different scale of sub fractioning. The complexity multiplied when differently fractionated measure units were equated with equally varied units and sub fractions of monetary units.

Measurement of mass – the gravitational force on the measure and is balanced against the gravitational force on the weights.

This problem of differential fractioning of measures and money was sought to be solved during the French Revolution. During the French Revolution (1870), the National Assembly of France asked French Academy of Sciences to formulate a scientific and rational measure system. Such a system was expected to be:

1 neutral and universal,

2 replicable anytime and anywhere,

3 to have decimal multiples,

4 to follow common prefixes,

5 be practical and simple to use.


One thought on “MEASURING UP

  1. Pingback: PERCEIVING DESIGN INFORMATION | Interior Design Assist

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