Out & About

April 17, 2014

A history of tick tock

McGill prof lectures about standard, daylight saving time on borderlands at SUNY

PLATTSBURGH — Dr. Jarrett Rudy has a thing for time: its history and how it was implemented on the borderlands.

Rudy is the keynote speaker Tuesday afternoon at the Distinguished Fulbright Chair in Quebec Studies Address hosted by the history department at SUNY Plattsburgh.

His time-telling talk centers on 19th- and 20th-century Quebec.

“The idea behind it is to think about how people told time,” said Rudy, an associate professor in the Department of History and Classical Studies at McGill University. “How did they understand what time was is really the big question. It seems like a funny question. The idea that time has a history is something that always surprises people when I tell them. There’s a certain amount of research that has been done on this but not an enormous amount.”

Rudy will discuss standard time and daylight saving time.

“In the border region, when people talk about standard time they will often talk about the Day of Two Noons, or the 18th of November 1883. That’s the day that railways adopted standard time for the first time across North America, and some institutions follow them. Telegraph companies and a lot of major cities passed time announcement or time declarations.”

Standard time moved clocks forward a half hour or more for some. Before the Day of Two Noons, there were two types of time in circulation: sundial and railroad time. Clocks and church bells would peal when the noonday sun registered on a sundial.


“The other way and an increasingly important form in the 1850s: time used by railroads,” Rudy said. “Railroads typically adopted the time of their main depot, and they would use it along their entire line. This had the effect of standardizing local time in a limited way. Mind you, there were a lot of railroad companies, so it created a lot of railroad times. What happened in 1883, the railroad companies got together and divided North American into five time zones, 15 degrees apart. This is the invention of time zones. This is a big moment in North American history. When people study this moment, they look at it as a benchmark of the coming of modernity.”

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