Contributed Papers

Data Practices


Presenter 1

Moral Accounting in the Eighteenth Century

Andrea Rusnock

University of Rhode Island


In 1785, a Newcastle society sought to raise funds for inoculating the poor and appealed to potential benefactors by demonstrating how many lives would be saved if their plan were adopted. Their call for donations mixed calculations about mortality with explicit moral statements about civic and Christian duty. This talk will analyze this and other instances of moral accounting in 18th century Britain and British colonies in two historiographic contexts: first, the history of data and its emphasis on methods of compilation (especially paper tools); and second, the use of moral accounting as a metaphor, initially described by George Lakoff. More broadly, this talk will address the emergence of comparative mortality measures such as infant mortality, maternal mortality, and disease specific mortality, to inform and shape public health policy, actuarial science, and more general assessments about the functioning of government and civil society.


Presenter 2

Polling for Peace: Opinion Measurement and the Postwar International Order

Tal Arbel

Tel Aviv University


In 1954, The Scientific Monthly published an article proposing a measurement instrument - a scale of fitness - to test the readiness of colonized people for self-government. Properly applied, it promised to make sure that objectively set criteria rather than power politics or imperial interests determined the schedule for independence. The man behind this grandiose proposal was Stuart C. Dodd, a pioneer of scientific polling who had spent the 1930s and 1940s in the Near East, conducting the first attitude surveys in the region. Upon his return to the United States, Dodd became an avid exponent for using opinion research in policymaking on the international arena. The paper examines the role of the decolonizing Middle East in the development and globalization of research on public opinion and consumer habits in the early Cold War. Historians of science have paid little attention to the place of survey research in furnishing and maintaining the new international order that came into being in the aftermath of the Second World War. Addressing the lacuna in the scholarship, I trace this American strain of scientific internationalism to its beginnings in experimental studies carried out in Palestine, Lebanon, and Syria, and the development of techniques for studying attitude formation and change outside the Anglo-American world. I aim to show that efforts to adapt survey methodology for dealing with recalcitrant subject populations in non-democratic settings-the mandate state, occupied territories, war zones-got taken up in the context of postwar organizing of the profession, and shaped the agenda and ethos of the survey research community in the 1950s and 1960s. In the process, I argue, the modern public-opinion poll, once a staple of American mass media and consumer culture, took on a new life as universal tool of governance. This transformation affected in turn the cultural authority of surveyors as well as the political meaning of the knowledge they produced.


Presenter 3

The Formalization of Historical Time

Matteo Valleriani

Max Planck Institute for the History of Science, Berlin; Technische Universität Berlin, Tel Aviv University


After twenty years of digital humanities, the historical disciplines are now developing a new approach, usually defined as computational history.
This new field is mostly characterized by the construction of sophisticated high-dimensional datasets and by the use of network analysis to investigate them, though it rarely goes beyond the application of methods of social network analysis.
This paper explores the limits of the most relevant aspect of computational history, namely the way historical time can be formalized so that it can include both the concepts of natural and social time, as D. Lewis and A. Weigert defined it, and specific attributes due to the reflections on the concept of time in the past by he historical actors.
In this respect, the paper suggests computational history to deal with the concept of historical time on three different levels: a) determination of the length of temporal connections between historical sources belonging to a large corpus analyzed through distant reading, b) formalization of time as carrier of cultural and historical attitudes such as the tendency to follow authorities and traditions, and c) the formal possibility to deal with different time scales at the same time, a subject defined by Reinhart Koselleck (1977), while following Ernst Bloch, as one of the modes of temporal experience: "the contemporaneity of the noncontemporaneous (Gleichzeitigkeit der Ungleichzeitigen)."
The paper will investigate mathematical formalisms and show which of them could reveal useful to implement time on a computational level and in the way historians conceive it.


Presenter 4

Bulwarks: Security Technologies and Societies in Transition

Mohandas Schuyler Towne

The Ronin Institute


Security technologies such as locks, seals, or encryption serve as a first-line solution to complex social problems. As such, significant advances in security technologies often occur at moments of major societal transition and, I theorize, act as bulwarks behind which more complex, fragile, and expensive systems can develop. If successful, those security technologies can eventually become completely obsolete without the societal problems recurring as the other systems that have grown up under their protection ultimately provide more robust solutions to the same issues. If unsuccessful, those complex systems may collapse or fail to flourish, leaving the society in limbo or forced to turn to exploitative solutions to the same social problems.
This paper describes the development of security technologies from 1770-1860 in Great Britain in parallel with the development of other legal, infrastructural, and social systems such as the rise of professional policing, the installation of gas lamps, and changes in social norms that came with increased urbanization. From there, we will investigate how digitally networked communities form and describe how state support of, or interference with, security technologies have affected their development. Finally, we will unpack the remarkable parallels in security cultures of 19th century Great Britain and the 21st century internet, each typified by a belief that their technologies were sole solutions to great problems, and a distrust for or even obliviousness to alternative solutions being developed in their shadow.