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Grant number like: FA-252546-17

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Benjamin Schmidt
Northeastern University (Boston, MA 02115-5005)

Fellowships for University Teachers
Research Programs

[Grant products]

$50,400 (approved)
$50,400 (awarded)

Grant period:
1/1/2018 – 12/31/2018

Creating Data: The Invention of Information in the 19th-Century American State

The digital study, with accompanying data visualization, of the origins of modern computational culture in the American government's data collection practices of the 19th century.

Creating Data is a history that uses data collected by the US government in the late 19th century to explore how the American state laid the foundation for modern practices of processing and displaying digital information. The project pioneers new methods for using machine learning and data visualization to engage in critical humanistic reading of three massive datasets produced by government bureaucracies: shipping logs collected by the US Naval Observatory after 1830, population records and maps at the Census Office after 1870, and book cataloging at the Library of Congress after 1890. By integrating narrative historical scholarship and archival research with richly interactive data visualizations, it shows how putatively objective data, still in active use decades later, still promotes the agendas and interests of the state actors who created it.