BirthKevin Birth
Ph.D, UCSD 1993

Birth Book 3Birth Book 2Birth Book 1
Professor, Department of Anthropology, Queens College-CUNY

Office: Powdermaker Hall 313C
Phone: (718) 997-5518
Fax: (718) 997-2885

Research            Nuremberg Hour Systems in 1564             Publications              Books                    Recent Presentations

Having determined in high school that I was a mediocre fiddle-player and tobacco chewer, I left Harrisburg, Pennsylvania to pursue anthropology. In graduate school at the University of California at San Diego, I was trained in social and psychological anthropology. In 1989, I began my research on cultural concepts of time, and conducted ethnographic field research in rural Trinidad. In 1993, one of my esteemed professors said, "You know too much about this place, you better leave." Soon after, I left California in my old Mazda with my pregnant wife and new Ph.D. to seek my fortune at Queens College, where I had been hired on the basis of wearing purple pants during my interview.

Since then, I have continued to do research on time, but have expanded my interests to include the experience of Carnival and music, chronobiology, social rhythms, political economy, and even a bit of theology and liturgical studies.

Research Focus:
  • Social anthropology
  • Psychological anthropology 
  • Time
  • Festivals 
  • Ethnicity 
  • Caribbean

Courses Taught:
  • Intro to Cultural Anthropology (101)
  • History of Anthropology (200) 
  • Peoples of the Caribbean (219) 
  • Psychological Anthropology (309) 
  • Seminar in Contemporary Anthropological Theory (320)
Nuremberg Hour Systems in 1564

Clocks were not always synchronized.  In fact, there were different systems for counting the hours. In the late medieval and early modern periods in Europe, there were many towns in which the time struck by bell towers were not only not coordinated, but represented different ways of counting hours. 

In the Renaissance and Early Modern period there were many different ways of telling the hour of the day in Europe. The most common were canonical hours and small hours. Canonical hours divided the daylight hours into 12 equal segments. Consequently, they varied depending on the time of year and the amount of daylight. Small hours are the system we presently use: two counts of 12 hours each, with each hour being of equal length. In Nuremberg there was a system known as Great Hours or Nuremberg Hours. These involved different counts of hours for the day and night. The hour after sunrise was 1 o’clock in the day, and the hour after sunset was 1 o’clock in the night. At the winter solstice, 8 o’clock in the day would be followed by 1 o’clock at night. The broadsheet from the web address below is from 1564 and represents the relationship of these three hour systems. I have taken the daytime hours in these three systems from November to create a drum beat.  The floor tom, mounted tom, and snare strike the hours in the different systems.  For instance, 8 in the morning in our system involves the floor tom being struck 8 times.

Kick drum = 15 minute intervals in our system
High hat = 5 minute intervals in our system
Floor tom = striking the hours in our system
Mounted tom = striking the Nuremberg hours
Snare = striking the canonical hours

This produces one of the most unappealing drum solos ever, but it gives an idea of the asynchrony of bells in Nuremberg in 1564: Nuremberg Hour Systems in 1564

The broadside used to produce this is here:


2016.  Calendar Time, Cultural Sensibilities, and Strategies of Persuasion. in "Time, Temporality, and Global Politics". E-International Relations. (DOWNLOAD PDF)

2014. The Remarkable Clocks of the Magdalen Chapel. The Bulwark: The Magazine of the Scottish Reformation Society 4(4):14-17.


2014.  Non-clocklike Features of Psychological Timing and Alternatives to the Clock Metaphor.  Timing and Time Perception 2(3):312-324.


2014. "The Vindolanda Timepiece: Time and Calendar Reckoning in Roman Britain". Oxford Journal of Archaeology 33(4):395-411.


2014. Breguet’s Decimal Clock: A Masterpiece from the Enlightenment.  Frick Collection Members’ Magazine, Winter 10-11.


2013. The Princess and the Pea: Research Strategies for the Study of the Mediation of Timescales by Artifacts.  In Requirements for UTC and Civil Timekeeping on Earth, American Astronautical Society, Science and Technology Series, volume 115, pp. 191-204.


2013. Zmanim, Salat, Jyotish and UTC: The Articulation of Religious Times and the Global Timescale. In Requirements for UTC and Civil Timekeeping on Earth, American Astronautical Society, Science and Technology Series, volume 115, pp. 209-228.  


2013. Calendars: Representational Homogeneity and Heterogeneous Temporality.  Time and Society 22(2): 216-236.


2011. The Regular Sound of the Cock: Context-Dependent Time Reckoning in the Middle Ages. Kronoscope 11(1-2): 125-144.


2011. “Signs and Wonders: The Uncanny Verum and the Anthropological Illusion” in David Lipset and Paul Roscoe (eds.) Echoes of the Tambaran: Masculinity, History and the Subject in the Work of Donald F. Tuzin. pp. 117-136.  Canberra: Australian National University Press.


2008.  The Creation of Coevalness and the Danger of Homochronism, Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute (N.S.) 14(1): 3-20. Also, “Reply to Fabian,” Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute 14(3): 665.


2006.  Time and the Biological Consequences of Globalization. Current Anthropology 48(2): 215-236. [Download PDF]


2006. What is Your Mission Here? A Trinidadian Perspective on Visits from the “Church of Disneyworld.” Missiology 34(4): 497-508.


2006. Més que una pura succession: les alters dimensions del Temps [More than Pure Succession: the other dimensions of time]. Revista d’etnologia de Catalunya 28: 20-27.

2006. The Immanent Past: Culture and Psyche at the Juncture of Memory and History. Introduction to the special issue “The Immanent Past.” Ethos 34(2): 169-191.


2006. Past Times: Temporal Structure of History and Memory. Ethos 34(2): 192-210.


2005. Time and Consciousness. Companion to Psychological Anthropology. Robert Edgerton and Conerly Casey, eds. Pp. 17-29. Oxford: Blackwell Publishers

2004.  Finding Time. Field Methods 16(1): 70-84.


2001. Sitting There: Discourses of the Embodiment of Agency, Belonging, and Deference in the Classroom. Journal of Mundane Behavior 2(2).


1997. Most of Us are Family Some of the Time: Inter-racial unions and Trans-racial kinship in Eastern Trinidad. American Ethnologist 24(3):585-601.

1996. Trinidadian Times: Temporal Dependency and Temporal Flexibility on the Margins of Industrial Capitalism. Anthropological Quarterly 69(2):79-89.


       1995. Putting Romance into Systems of Sexuality: Changing Smart Rules in a Trinidadian Village (with Morris Freilich). Romantic Love.William R. Jankowiak, ed. pp. 262-276. 

       New York:  Columbia University Press.


1995. The Ethnic Ambiguities of Getting Married: The Official Pronouncements, Local Interpretations, and Personal Experiences of Trinidadian Hindu Indians. International Journal of Comparative Race and Ethnic Studies 2(2):80-91.

1994. British Anthropology and Psychoanalysis Before World War II: The Evolution of Asserted Irrelevance. Canberra Anthropology 17(1):53-69.

1994 Bakrnal: Coup, Carnival, and Calypso in Trinidad. Ethnology 33(2):165-177.

1990. Reading and the Righting of Writing Ethnography.  American Ethnologist 17(3): 549-557.


2012. Objects of Time: How Things Shape Temporality.  New York: Palgrave Macmillan.

2008. Bacchanalian Sentiments: Musical Experiences and Political Counterparts in Trinidad. Duke University Press.

1999. Any Time is Trinidad Time. Gainesville: University Press of Florida.

Recent Presentations

2014. Failed, Forgotten, Discarded, or Marginalized. United States Naval Observatory, Washington, D.C.   


2014. Sediments of Timekeeping: A Walkshop on Recognizing Past Time Reckoning Techniques in Edinburgh, Scotland. The Temporal Design Workshop, School of Design Infomatics, University of Edinburgh.

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