Americas and Oceania Collections blog

Exploring the Library’s collections from the Americas and Oceania

22 February 2011

From Punched Cards to the Census

I've spent a little more time this morning than I hoped on working out how to update my timesheet with a Saturday duty in the reading room.  We've just moved over to an electronic clocking-on system, and so I've been wondering a little about the origins of these systems - and what the Library holds in its collections. 

There's quite a literature on the history of time-keeping: perhaps the best known starting point is E. P. Thompson's 'Time, Work-Discipline and Industrial Capitalism', Past & Present(1967), which argues that clocks and watches helped to 'internalise' the work-discipline required by modern industrial soceities.  Nigel Glenny and Paul Thrift disagree, in 'Reworking E. P. Thompson's "Time, Work-Discipline and Industrial Capitalism"', Time & Society (1996).  

For Americanists, the debate is moved interestingly by Mark M. Smith to the U.S. in Mastered by the Clock: time, slavery and freedom in the American South (1997), and is also considered by Cheryl A. Wells, Civil War Time: Temporality and Identity in America, 1861-1865(2005).  Historical overviews are provided by Gehard Dorhn van-Rossum, A History of the Hour: clocks and modern temporal orders (1996) and David Landes, Revolution in Time: clocks and the making of the modern world (2000).  A modest contribution to the history of the calendar should be published this year, too.  The social sciences are considered in Rene Adams, Timewatch: the social anaylsis of time (1995).  All can be tracked down on the catalogue.

Sadly, we don't seem to hold much original material on Willard Bundy, the originator of the puched-card timekeeping system.  He and his brother helped to found the company that went on to become part of I.B.M.   But the story is told in Lars Heide, Punched-card systems and the early information explosion, 1880-1945 (2009), which also emphasises the importance of early punched card systems to late-19th century U.S. censuses, bringing me to our new census exhibition, which opens soon in the front hall of the Library (an on which Ian, the curator, has done a great job).  There's a short preview on the 24 Hour Museum site, and a press release on Census and Society: Why Everyone Counts here.



The comments to this entry are closed.