Changing experience of time

Call For Papers

The changing experience of time in the long nineteenth century. Local, Regional, Transnational and Global Perspectives

Centre for Transnational History, University of St Andrews, Date: 18/19 May 2012

When the Industrial Revolution began in Britain during the second half of the 18th century, there was a clear divide between the ‘elite’ and ‘popular’ perceptions of time; between the educated townspeople, who accepted the structure of mechanical time, and the rural workers who divided their years according to the almanac and the festive calendar.  Yet, by the start of the 20th century, the Western perception of time had become pretty much streamlined.  Anywhere on the globe, wherever Western industry spread its influence, bank managers and unskilled factory workers alike told time by the clock and accepted its evenly divided twenty-four hour structure both at work and at home.

The story of the 19th century’s ‘temporal revolution’ is the story of the conflicts between science and religion, individuals and machines, villages and cities, local identity and standardization.  It is also the story of the human experience of an industrial age of unprecedented growth and anxieties in which even a concept as universal as time could metamorphosize into something new.

The aim of this workshop is to explore the development of the modern experience of time from a variety of perspectives, not only across various disciplines but also on different spatial levels.  The story of industrial time ranges from local micro histories that can focus in on a single town or individual, to broad macro histories of empires and corporations.  It is a topic that bridges history, literature, and the sciences.  Sharing ideas on how to link these perspectives, and these studies, can offer valuable insights into one of the most transformative, yet too often overlooked, aspects of life in a modern, industrialized society.

Possible themes and research questions could include, but are not limited to:

The shift from seasonal to mechanical time 

~ In the age of Enlightenment and the Scientific Revolution, why did it take so long for a mechanical solution to the pressing problem of finding longitude at sea to find acceptance?  What challenges were involved?  In what ways did new developments in precise, mechanical timekeeping affect the experiences of travelers, businesses, and shipping companies? How did early factory workers adapt to the demands of a life regimented by the factory clock?

The introduction of the geological or evolutionary time scale  

~ What was the popular response to the clash between the new science of the 19thcentury and the traditional, Biblical view of time? In what ways did the scientific notion of an abstract, absolute timeline influence how the study of history was perceived and periodized during the long 19th century?

The experience of time in the newly industrialized environment

~ What effects did speed, structured time schedules, the telegraph, and the ubiquitous pocket watch have on public mentality?  How did railways and other means of fast travel influence the development of cities, suburbs, and the concept of leisure time during the 19th century? What effect, if any, did the ‘annihilation of space and time’ caused by high-speed travel have on the public’s experience and understanding of local and national culture and local and international borders? How did the introduction of photography and film affect the public perception of time?

The demand for standardized time in an industrialized economy 

~ How did time become a tool for imperial interests and their expanding trading and communications networks? Who were the major players that pushed for standardized time?  Was the need for standardized time universally accepted, or was there opposition? How does the 19th century’s concept of standardized time compare with our 21st century understanding of time?

Rebellion against the regimentation of the clock

~ What were the psychological effects of life on a regimented time schedule? How did factory and other industrial workers cope, or fail to cope, with the demands of the clock?  What outlets or recourse did they have? How did the push and pull of public and private time find expression in the art, literature, and anxieties of La Belle Époque?  What is the origin of the modern image of time as an oppressor? How did the fight against the clock find expression in early cinema?


~ Could Reinhart Koselleck’s concept of ‘Sattelzeit’ (saddling time) be pluralized?  Were there specific periods and regions that experienced an unbalanced acceleration of time? This is an invitation for scholars in history and neighboring disciplines to share their interest in the history of time and the origins of our modern battle to beat the clock—or, at least, to tame it.

If you would like to present a paper at this workshop, please send a 300 word abstract to Marie Ventura ( by 10 December 2011.

The workshop will be organized so that participants will not only have the opportunity to share their own research, but also to offer comments on the research of their peers.  For this reason, papers should be sent two weeks in advance of the workshop date.  Presentations should be about fifteen minutes long in order to leave time for a brief peer commentary and space for discussion and Q&A.

Full programme

For any further information, please contact the organizer:

Marie Ventura (
PhD candidate
School of History, University of St Andrews
Centre for Transnational History