A History of Quantification: Problems and Perspectives in Central Europe

Date: Thursdays, at 9:30 am
Place: Online, room YT211, Faculty of Humanities, Charles University
Lecturer: Mátyás Erdélyi (CEFRES / FHS UK)
Language: English

Our task in this course is to explore the application and diffusion of statistical thinking in Central Europe in the long nineteenth century. Statistical thinking is not merely investigated as an academic discipline, but the course will look at practical uses of statistical methods ranging from the public sphere to the private economy that constantly exploited advances in statistical mathematics and probability theory. It thus plans to reconcile specific forms of statistical knowledge about society and economy with their equally diverse forms of application by natural and social scientists, private and public clerks, and other intellectuals.

During the course we will be attentive to the relevance of Central European debates concerning statistics at the backdrop of pioneering ideas in Western states. We will explore how debates inform the local and regional agendas of our protagonists—not only political but epistemological, institutional, and empirical as well. By the same token, the course concentrates on the specific places of knowledge production and its effects on methods and on the way our protagonists pursued credibility and battled for social authority.

Final grade will be composed of the following parts:
1) Class participation (30%)
2) One in-class presentation (30%)
3) Final paper based on the presentation (40%)

Course Bibliography
1 – Questions of intellectual authority – Steven Shapin, “Cordelia’s Love: Credibility and the Social Studies of Science,” Perspectives on Science III, no. 3 (1995): 255–75.
2 – Chance, probability, risk – Lorraine Daston, Classical Probability in the Enlightenment (Princeton, N.J: Princeton University Press, 1988), 138–181. (“Risk after Probability Theory”)
3 – The lawlike nature of statistical observations – Ian Hacking, The Taming of Chance (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press): 180–199. (“The autonomy of statistical law”; “A chapter from Prussian statistics”)
4 – A moral apology for social statistics – Emile Durkheim, “Rules for the Distinction of the Normal from the Pathological,” in The Rules of Sociological Method: And Selected Texts on Sociology and Its Method, ed. Emile Durkheim and Steven Lukes (London: Macmillan Education UK, 1982), 85–107.
5 – Counting the dead: the construction of mortality tables – Timothy Lee Alborn, Regulated Lives: Life Insurance and British Society, 1800-1914 (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2009), 102–135. (“Death and the Actuary”).
6 – Social insurance and mathematics – Susan Zimmermann, Divide, Provide, and Rule: An Integrative History of Poverty Policy, Social Policy, and Social Reform in Hungary under the Habsburg Monarchy (Budapest; New York: Central European University Press, 2011), 90–122. (“Social Insurance and Workplace-related Social Policy (from the 1880s to 1914)”)
7 – Cost-benefit analysis: making railways profitable – C. H. Pearson and Nicholas S. Reyntiens, Continental Railway Investigations. Report to the Board of Trade on Railways in Austria and Hungary (London: Darling & Son, 1909), 25–28. (“Financial results and general notes”)
8 – Bookkeepers should guard economic rationality – Mary Poovey, “Accommodating Merchants: Double-Entry Bookkeeping, Mercantile Expertise, and the Effect of Accuracy,” in Mary Poovey, A History of the Modern Fact (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1998), 29– 91.
9 – Standardization, taxonomy, questionnaires – Christine von Oertzen, “Machineries of Data Power: Manual versus Mechanical Census Compilation in Nineteenth-Century Europe,” Osiris 32, no. 1 (2017): 129–50.
10 – Statistical reasoning in public administration – Peter Becker, “The Administrative Apparatus under Reconstruction,” in The Habsburg Civil Service and Beyond, eds. Franz Adlgasser and Fredrik Lindström, (Vienna: Austrian Academy of Sciences Press, 2019), 233– 258.
11 – Neutral numbers, political controversies – Morgane Labbé, “Institutionalizing the Statistics of Nationality in Prussia in the 19th Century (from local bureaucracy to state‐level census of population),” Centaurus 49, no. 4 (2007): 289–306.
12 – Authorities revisited: physicians and statisticians – Theodore M. Porter, “Life Insurance, Medical Testing, and the Management of Mortality,” in Biographies of Scientific Objects, ed. Lorraine Daston (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2000), 226–246.
13 – The statistical expert and the mathematician – Wolfgang Karl Härdle, Annette Vogt, “Ladislaus von Bortkiewicz – Statistician, Economist and a European Intellectual,” International Statistical Review 83, no. 1 (2015): 17–35.

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