ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

Paulami Guha BiswasSubscribe to Paulami Guha Biswas

Precarious Measures and Precise Numbers

This article features the history of the placement of the milestones along the long road from Calcutta to Benares in the late 1820s. It inquires into the practices of measurement in early colonial India and attempts to understand how the numbers were produced as fixed and final entities of measurement practices. It exposes the confusion, recalcitrance, guesswork and reckoning behind the emergence of this numerate culture. The confusion over distance measurement was often attributed to the inauthenticity or absence of instruments, to the variation of routes followed by the surveyors. But in spite of all practical difficulties, the administration demanded precise distance charts to fix the payments of the postal runners. The officers had no options but to choose from a multiple number of distance charts and finalise the numbers inscribed on the milestones. This was the way “scientific” measurements were done and “exact” numbers were produced.
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