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History of Science and Medicine Presents: "Reading Data as a Liberal Art: Telling Stories In and Around the 1940 U.S. Census"

There are stories in the data. We just have to know how to read them. In this talk, Bouk brings humanistic and historical methods to bear on a massive and also transparent data set, one that also happens to play a crucial role in American democracy: the U.S. census. Historical census data allows us to train ourselves to read data closely--an approach that can complement or improve statistical analysis or visualization. It also invites us to consider the implications of handing over more and more power and authority to data sets by thinking with a data system nearly as old as the U.S. Constitution. This talk will speak to data scientists or to those who shudder at the word "data" and can also help put in context the census that is taking place in the U.S. right now.

Dan Bouk researches the history of bureaucracies, quantification, and other modern things shrouded in cloaks of boringness. His first book, How Our Days Became Numbered: Risk and the Rise of the Statistical Individual (Chicago, 2015), explored the spread into ordinary Americans’ lives of the United States life insurance industry’s methods for quantifying people, for discriminating by race, for justifying inequality, and for thinking statistically. His recent writings put today’s political and economic values of personal data in a much wider historical context. He is Associate Professor of History at Colgate University and a Faculty Fellow at Data & Society Research Institute.


  • Colgate University

    Dan Bouk, PhD Colgate University
    Associate Professor of History


Host Organization




Lectures and Seminars
Feb 202017Monday
3:45 PM4:45 PM
Sterling Memorial LibraryLecture Hall120 High StreetNew Haven, CT