Stephen Mihm, associate professor in the department of history, is one of 22 recipients of grants from the Public Scholar program of the National Endowment for the Humanities, which helps to fund “well-researched books in the humanities intended to reach a broad readership.” Mihm’s project, Industrial and Technical Standards in Modern Life, is described as “(r)esearch and writing leading to a book on the history, from the late 18th century to the present, of the industrial and technical standards that enable modern life.”
Mihm elaborated further to Alan Flurry of the Franklin College:
“Academic historians who try to write for a general audience often believe they must stick to topics that are outwardly exciting: a gripping tale, a colorful figure, a dramatic revelation. This project, by contrast, tells the history of things so mundane they barely register with professors, much less the general public: uniform weights and measures like the pound, bushel, and foot; technical standards that denominate common sizes and shapes of screw threads, paper clips, and other items; traffic signs and signals; building codes that regulate such minutiae as the height of sinks; and all the other conventions of consistency that impose order on our otherwise chaotic, modern lives. These all belong to a class of banal things called standards. This book tells their story.”
The Public Scholar awards were featured this week in a Washington Post article.