Faculty of Social Sciences

(CANCELLED) Staffan Müller-Wille: "Life in papyro: Simulating Populations around 1900"

  • Date: 11/1/2017 at 1:15 PM 3:00 PM
  • Location: Engelska parken - The Rausing Room
  • Organizer: Department of History of Science and Ideas
  • Contact person: H. Otto Sibum
  • Seminarium

Office for History of Science

(NB, CANCELLED)

Staffan Müller-Wille, University of Exeter: "Life in papyro: Simulating Populations around 1900"


Abstract
Statistics derives its power from reclassifying raw data and comparing the resulting frequency distributions. In this paper, I will look at two examples to argue that statistics, essentially, is a practice of simulation that depends on making and unmaking populations, initially on paper, later on using more sophisticated computation devices such as machine readable Hollerith cards. The two examples I will talk about are Franz Boas’s early anthropometric studies of native American populations in the 1890s and his later, more famous study of the descendants of American immigrants (1911); and Wilhelm Johannsen’s experiments in barley breeding  which he carried out for the Carlsberg laboratory in the 1880s. Both examples will show that the manipulation of populations on paper depended on analytic practices in the field: the distinction of “family lines” in the case of Boas and the creation of “pure lines” in the case of Johannsen. The various manifestations of “artificial life”, whether in papyro, in vivo, in vitro or in silico, I will argue, are inextricably entangled.