Practices of comparing in England's society before 1600
Gary Shaw opened his talk in the SFB colloquium by introducing comparing in actor-networks. He argued that comparative practice is a kind of network, because it is cognitive/linguistic. According to Shaw, comparing is always a part of a more complex practice or network.
One observation was that some practices of comparing do not feel as comparative as others. Comparing seems to be more frequent in social life than in a political context.
Shaw focused on England because of its central role and on the 14th and 15th centuries because of the growing public life and law making at that time. One key point was 'Public Measurement as Comparison'. Organization based on comparison was pivotal for medieval ruling, e.g. measurements or weights for the construction of the kingdom.
Did the medieval form of comparison change in the 15th and 16th centuries? Temporal comparisons increased during that time, Shaw stated, and gave different examples like the 'Breed of Horses Act' from 1540. Back then, people were afraid their horses might shrink and started measuring them (in hands) to enable comparisons.
Gary Shaw is currently visiting Bielefeld for a longer stay as mercator fellow of the SFB 1288 in 2018. The mercator fellowship allows for especially intensive collaboration. He is Professor of History and Medieval Studies at Wesleyan University.
Photos: Jan Holthaus