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The Force of Comparison: A New Perspective on Modern European History and the Contemporary World

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Volume 11

New German Historical Perspectives

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The Force of Comparison

A New Perspective on Modern European History and the Contemporary World

Willibald Steinmetz

354 pages, 14 illus., bibliog., index

ISBN  978-1-78920-335-6 $135.00/£99.00 Hb Published (September 2019)

eISBN 978-1-78920-336-3 eBook

Hb View cartYour country: United States - Click here to remove geolocation   Buy the eBook! $34.95 Request a Review or Examination Copy (in Digital Format) Recommend to your Library Available in GOBI®


“By studying practices of comparison both in historical reality and in the study of history, this book offers fresh and surprising insights into a much-discussed subject. The contributions are empirically rich, well-documented, and of great interest for many areas in history and other fields.” • Jürgen Kocka, WZB Berlin Social Science Center

“This is an excellent collection of essays. Its scholarship is of a high standard, it demonstrates a degree of conceptual unity that is unusual for edited volumes, and it does a splendid job of vindicating the argument for the ubiquitous importance of comparison in modern life and thought.” • Luke O’Sullivan, National University of Singapore


In an era defined by daily polls, institutional rankings, and other forms of social quantification, it can be easy to forget that comparison has a long historical lineage. Presenting a range of multidisciplinary perspectives, this volume investigates the concepts and practices of comparison from the early modern period to the present. Each chapter demonstrates how comparison has helped to drive the seemingly irresistible dynamism of the modern world, exploring how comparatively minded assessors determine their units of analysis, the criteria they select or ignore, and just who it is that makes use of these comparisons—and to what ends.

Willibald Steinmetz is Professor of Modern and Contemporary History at Bielefeld University. He has published widely on the history of concepts and political communication and is co-editor of the book series European Conceptual History with Berghahn Books.

Subject: General History


List of Figures and Tables

Introduction: Concepts and Practices of Comparison in Modern History
Willibald Steinmetz

Chapter 1. Outlines of a Historical Epistemology of Comparison: From Descartes to the Early Nineteenth Century
Michael Eggers

Chapter 2. Comparative Practices and their Implications: The Case of Comparative Viewing
Johannes Grave

Chapter 3. Above/Below, Better/Worse, or Simply Different? Metamorphoses of Social Comparison, 1600–1900
Willibald Steinmetz

Chapter 4. Empowering Comparisons? The Making of Republics in the Early Modern Period
Lars Behrisch

Chapter 5. Comparing Europe and the Americas: The Dispute of the New World between the Sixteenth and Nineteenth Centuries
Angelika Epple

Chapter 6. European Colonial Empires and Victorian Imperial Exceptionalism
Alex Middleton

Chapter 7. Comparison and the Welfare State in Modern Europe, c. 1880–1945
Julia Moses

Chapter 8. Comparison, Rivalry and Competition under Neo-Liberalism and State Socialism
David Priestland

Chapter 9. Comparing Economic Activities on a Global Level in the 1920s and 1930s: Motives and Consequences
Martin Bemmann

Chapter 10. In Search of A Global Centre of Calculation: The Washington Statistical Conferences of 1947
Daniel Speich Chassé

Chapter 11. Formalized Comparisons: Rankings and Status in Higher Education
Wendy Espeland

Chapter 12. Good – Better – Best: The Power of Ranking Orders
Bettina Heintz


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