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History of Political Economy Annual Supplement to Volume 33 (2001) 23-56

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A. F. W. Crome's Measurements of the “Strength of the State”:
Statistical Representations in Central Europe around 1800

Sybilla Nikolow


This essay provides insights into practices of statistical representations produced, published, and debated in the German-speaking territorial states in the period 1770–1830. Seventeenth- and eighteenth-century political arithmeticians, including John Graunt, William Petty, Johann Peter Süßmilch, and Daniel Bernoulli, had argued that one could gauge the wealth or power of a nation by counting people. August Friedrich Wilhelm Crome (1753–1833), professor of Staatswissenschaften und Kameralismus at the University of Gießen, in the liberal aristocratic state of Hessen-Darmstadt, took this argument several steps further by asserting that the ratio of people to geographic area was the “surest sign of culture” and by graphically comparing nations using that ratio. At the turn of the nineteenth century, the Enlightenment project of measuring population and wealth slowly became more systematic, driven by centralized states and bureaucracy (see the essay by Theodore Porter in this volume). An examination of Crome's contribution to state-crafting measurement highlights the nature of social science taught at German-speaking [End Page 23] universities in this period as well as the heated controversy over the role of measurement and table making in the study of the state.

The part of Crome's work that has been almost completely forgotten by historians illustrates an interesting passage point in the history of state-crafting measurement. He used numerical terms to represent the knowledge of the territory within the tradition of geographical state description. His aim was to evaluate and compare internal and external power relations in Europe. He studied, compared, and related the size of the population, the area, the revenue income, and the military power and eventually systematized these figures as “the strengths of the state.”

In the first part of my essay, I will show how Crome's statistical writings can be conceptualized within the German tradition of state description. Second, I will describe how and explain why he represented the state statistically and visually in the manner that he did. In the third part of my essay, I will demonstrate the implications of Crome's numerical abstractions as I discuss the contemporary scholarly criticism of the use of statistical numbers and tables in scholarship on the state. What the critics rejected as a reductive and mechanistic approach to the study of the state was for Crome a systematic abstraction. The reactions to Crome's ideas indicate that in some German-speaking states during Napoleon's occupation—and partly as a response to it—a more systematic and quantitative measurement of people and wealth resulted for the time being in a devaluation of statistics as a proper science. They show that the subsequent nineteenth-century academic dispute over the notion of statistics had already begun: should it be used to name a theoretical science taught at the universities or to label an administrative practice for managing the census?

The Place of Statistics in the Study of the State

The Academic System

Statistics was an empirical part of a body of knowledge on the territorial state that was conceptualized and taught as Staatswissenschaften and Kameralwissenschaften (or its synonym Kameralismus), a system of academic subjects including the social, political, and economic sciences in the German-speaking universities. Despite the fact that these studies included overlapping subjects and were taught in different places [End Page 24] and by different scholars in different ways, historians have found striking similarities between them as they existed in the eighteenth century. Staatswissenschaften, literally translated as “sciences of the state,” were the sciences of governing and included general philosophical subjects and law. In this curriculum students learned how to administer the territorial state and gained knowledge of the historical, empirical, and material constitution of the state as well (Bödecker 1990).1 Kameralwissenschaften (in English, “cameralism”), was literally translated as the “sciences of...


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pp. 23-56
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