A Marginal Affair. Building Anthropometry ‘Data’ Based on Army Recruitment Boards, France–Germany, 1880-1900

From Conscripts to Warriers: Uses and Misuses of Military Recruitment, Late Nineteenth – Twentieth Centuries
By Heinrich Hartmann

In 1891, the German Otto Ammon contacted his colleague René Collignon, an army doctor based in Cherbourg, and the two men began an intense correspondence, eventually forming a network of several anthropometric specialists in Europe and the US. Measuring army recruits during the medical exams of recruitment boards was the focus of their scientific preoccupations. These exchanges led both to methodological questions and to a form of transnational sociability, far removed from academic structures, helping build the legitimacy of racism based on ‘large numbers’, supposedly objective. This period of crisis in anthropometrics, which pushed the researchers to the sidelines, was nevertheless a resource that is visible in a transnational perspective.

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