About the Archive

In 1884 the Cambridge Anthropometric Committee began recording physiological data for university students. The programme continued throughout the following two decades, management of the instruments and records passing to the Cambridge Philosophical Society. Measurements were conducted at the Philosophical Society’s library, which had been relocated to the New Museum’s Site on Downing Street in the 1860s. It was here that the majority of the anthropometric recording was performed, library patrons submitting to examination by the librarian and providing information about their family history.

close up vignetteAnthropometric Data Cards CPS 12/1/10, reproduced by permission of  the Cambridge Philosophical Society (C)

The collection of over 9000 personalised data cards, associated with university students and visitors from the late 19th and early 20th centuries, is preserved in the Society’s archive. This collection is held at the Whipple Library, Cambridge. A transcription programme was begun on the collection as part of the ‘Weighty Matters’ project conducted by Professor Deborah Oxley. Digitised anthropometric data will be analysed in order to identify historical correlations between physical and social characteristics.

(1) Data Cards (CPS 12 1 10)

Anthropometric Data Cards CPS/12/1/10, reproduced by permission of the Cambridge Philosophical Society (C)

However, the process of transcription also prompted research questions of a qualitative nature. This blogsite serves as a platform  for discussing the social and cultural context in which bodily measurement took place. It will also allow those working with the collection to communicate points of interest that emerge during the course of the project.


All archival material and images are reproduced with kind permission from the Cambridge Philosophical Society.
**All images remain subject to copyright restrictions.