The construction of colorimetry by committee

Science in Context 9:387-420 (1996)
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This paper explores the confrontation of physical and contextual factors involved in the emergence of the subject of color measurement, which stabilized in essentially its present form during the interwar period. The contentions surrounding the specialty had both a national and a disciplinary dimension. German dominance was curtailed by American and British contributions after World War I. Particularly in America, communities of physicists and psychologists had different commitments to divergent views of nature and human perception. They therefore had to negotiate a compromise between their desire for a quantitative system of description and the perceived complexity and human-centeredness of color judgement. These debates were played out not in the laboratory but rather in institutionalized encounters on standards committees. Groups such as this constitute a relatively unexplored historiographic and social site of investigation. The heterogeneity of such committees, and their products, highlight the problems of identifying and following such ephemeral historical 'actors'.
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