I am interested in how notions of what I have always taken for granted are, in fact, things, thoughts, ideas that have changed over history. Time. Time as we keep track of it is relatively new. I don’t mean in the Einsteinian sense. And I long ago learned about the different calendars (Julian vs. Gregorian). No, I am surprised to learn that keeping track of daily time has been standardized for barely 100 years. For context, let me say my father would be over 100 years old if he were alive. So, suddenly in my ripe late middle age I’ve learned that time, as I’ve always known it, is a modern invention.
As with so much in history it came about slowly. In the Middle Ages ‘liturgical time’ competed with ‘merchant time’. During the Renaissance the Medici’s and The Church were intolerant of expressions of the future. They seemed to actually want to monopolize time. The biggest changes came with the Industrial Revolution beginning in the 18th century. The needs of capital and the mechanization of work replaced the rhythms of the natural world. Time was no longer something ‘passed’ as something ‘spent’.
This is my period of interest, where my attention is focused. This is the period of time where Lady Mary Wortly Montagu and Jane Austen reside. It strikes me as curious that I haven’t noticed a different kind of time there.
Time was standardized for the railroads in Britain on December 11, 1847. They chose Greenwich Mean Time (GMT) which is still the worldwide prime meridian. The USA and Canada lived with nearly 100 individual time zones until they too acknowledged GMT in 1883! British colonies around the globe protested ‘colony time’. Daily Savings Time created another issue. Since I’m not a fan of it I will not go into that history, except to say in 1918 the Mayor of Bangor, Maine (a man after my own heart) actually declared local time secession in protest of the newly created standard time and daily savings time. I’m more of a time passing, natural time girl. That does not, of course, account for how I’m always early wherever I go, wear a wrist watch and even have a ‘dress up’ watch.
I love that before all official standardization (which is most of recorded time!) people kept time by calling noon the moment that the sun was directly overhead wherever they happened to be, or the day began when it was light enough to see the veins in a person’s hands. It could be measured by something called a ‘pissing while’, or the time it takes to cook rice. I found an old recipe from my husband’s grandmother in Kansas who measured how long to bake her pies by the amount of cobs needed to heat the oven.
My favorite item is that in 1835 a man named Henry Belville carried a chronometer through London giving out the correct time to the clockmakers. His granddaughter continued the business of traveling from Greenwich to London to sell the exact time during the Second World War. Unlikely, but true!