This book is a history of an illusion. It is also a history of the dream that preceded the illusion. The book discusses statistics as the field of tension between the scientific claims of neutrality and universality on the one hand and the political and economic reality of the conflicting interests of nation-states on the other. The various paths of state- and nation-building that European countries traversed in the nineteenth century are recognisable in the objectives of government statistics and are reflected in the topics selected for statistical study and in the categories used in the research. Each congress was clearly dominated by the specific interests of the country in which the statisticians convened. The book shows in each case how the organisation of government statistics and national concerns influenced the international agenda. It describes the perceptions, goals and dilemmas of the protagonists and their contact with each other, and in so doing unravels the complex relationships between science, government and society, wherever possible from their point of view. The genesis of international statistics was inspired by a desire for reform. Belgium's pioneering role in the European statistical movement was informed both by its liberal polity and the special status of statistics within it, and by Adolphe Quetelet's key position as an intellectual. The consolidation of the Grand Duchy of Baden, a new medium-sized state in the Rhine Confederation and later in the German Confederation, offered great opportunities for the development of official statistics.
of organising statistical research. The statisticians who gathered in Brussels in 1853 shared a boundless optimism and
believed in the scientificneutrality of statistics, but when they tried to put their
ideas into practice they encountered many obstacles.
Railway connections to Brussels were excellent. At that time, Belgium had
the densest railway network in the world and Brussels was the main hub.
International meetings were frequently staged in the city. In the period 1830–
1850 Brussels and Paris were the refuges of exiles and political fugitives. In
of the congress.
Engel was also a good strategist. He managed to persuade the Prussian government to support the congress by stressing national interests; he impressed upon
the Prussian bureaucracy the administrative benefits of good statistics; and
at the congress was scientificneutrality personified. The conferees did not go
home empty-handed: the decisions made by the congress took up over fifty
States and statistics in the nineteenth century
pages of the proceedings. As was so often the case, the positive results came