Dan Bouk researches the history of bureaucracies, quantification, and other modern things shrouded in cloaks of boringness. For the most recent info on his research, click here.
Bouk studied computational mathematics as an undergraduate at Michigan State, before earning a Ph.D. in history from Princeton University. His work investigates the ways that corporations, states, and the experts they employ have used, abused, made, and re-made the categories that structure our daily experiences of being human. 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 new book, Democracy's Data: The Hidden Stories in the US Census and How to Read Them, published by MCD/Farrar, Straus and Giroux, was one of the New York Times' 100 notable books for 2022. In an age when we often hear that good governance requires that we depend on good data, it is crucial that everyone (and not just those in quantitative fields) understand and can work to improve the processes that make data from people. Democracy's Data is a history of the 1940 census that will prepare its readers to examine and critique the data-driven systems that surround us. Bouk blogs about his on-going research at shroudedincloaksofboringness.com.
- Michigan State University, BS (2002)
- Princeton University, MA (2006), PhD (2009)
Dan Bouk, Democracy's Data: The Hidden Stories in the US Census and How to Read Them (New York: MCD Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2022).
Dan Bouk, How Our Days Became Numbered: Risk and the Rise of the Statistical Individual (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2015) [Now in PAPERBACK]
- VIDEO: with Maud Newton for the US National Archives
- VIDEO: with Alex Hanna, Director of Research at the Distributed AI Research Institute, in a conversation hosted by Data & Society's People and Culture Manager, Ronteau Coppin
- VIDEO: with the New York Public Library's Julie Golia, talk about partners in historical census records in a conversation highlighting the sources teachers can use in their classrooms or consult at the NYPL.
- with Kate Carpenter, as they talk about the craft of writing history
- with Kenyatta D. Berry, host of PBS's Genealogy Roadshow
- with Margo Anderson, interviewed by Alexis Madrigal, as they talk about the 1950 census and US history, on San Francisco's KQED
- "The Census as a Tool of American Democracy," an interview with Rachel Hooper at the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights
- with BBC Radio 4's Tim Harford on More or Less
- with New Books Network interviewers Laura Stark and graduate students from Vanderbilt University
- with Brian Tarran in Significance ("The Idea of Using Statistics to Think about Individuals Is Quite Strange")
- in Journal of the History of Ideas podcast on history of quantification
Magazine and Newspaper Reviews or Related Pieces
- How Does Queerness Fit Into the US Census? excerpted for WIRED.
- What Langston Hughes Understood about How Power Relations Shaped US Census Data excerpted for LIT HUB.
- Democracy Is Asking Too Much of Its Data written for WIRED.
- NY TIMES review of Democracy's Data: "endearingly nerdy"
- WASHINGTON POST review of Democracy's Data: "solid storytelling chops"
- ATLANTIC MONTHLY: one of "Seven Books that Will Make You Smarter"
- "Revealing Data: The Color of Their Eyes," by Dan Bouk in Circulating Now (featuring a hernia map!)
- "Ainsi nos jours sont comptes" by Dan Bouk in Le Monde diplomatique (in English, in Spanish, in German/here too)
- in Financial TImes by Clive Cookson
- in New Scientist by Jonathon Keats
- cited in "Insurance Policies on Slaves," New York Times by Rachel Swarns
- quoted in "Americans Didn't Always Keep Their Social Security Numbers Secret,"Time by Olivia Waxman
- in "Capitalism's Lifeblood," Reviews in American History by Brent Cebul
- in "In the Money: Finance, Freedom, and American Capitalism," American Quarterly 68, no. 1 (2016): 161-175 by Caitlin Rosenthal
- in American Historical Review 121, no. 3 (2016): 954-955 by Arwen Mohun
- in Journal of American History 103, no. 3 (2016): 810-811 by Jonathan Simon
- in Journal of the History of the Behavioral Sciences 52, no. 4 (2016): 408-409 by Angus Burgin
- in "Corporate Capitalism and the Growing Power of Big Data," Science, Technology, & Human Values (2016) by Martha Poon and glossed here
- in Journal of Cultural Economy (2016) by Kevin Donovan
- in Journal of Economic Literature 53, no. 4 (2015): 1024-1026 by Thomas Stapleford
- in British Journal for the History of Science 49, no. 3 (2016): 520-521 by Daniel. C.S. Wilson
- in "American Histories of Risk," H-Soz-u-Kult (March 2018) by Elisabeth Engel
- in Journal of Interdisciplinary History 47, no. 2 (2016): 249-250 by David Bellhouse
- in Business History Review 90, no. 2 (2016): 367-370 by Timothy Alborn
- in Journal of Forensic Economics 26, no. 2 (2016): 251-256 by Frank L. Slesnick
- "A Year in Reading 2017" S-USIH by Andy Seal : "Bouk’s work is an intellectual history of capitalism...he carries it off with a poetic verve and elegance that transcends its material, expressing not only the inner logic of capital but also its hidden melodies, little patches of fancy and wonder that defy the Weberian gloom of iron cages and profit motives."
- A Primer on Powerful Numbers with Kevin Ackermann and danah boyd. New York: Data & Society Research Institute, 2022.
- House Arrest: How an Automated Algorithm Has Constrained Congress for a Century. New York: Data & Society Research Institute, 2021.
- “Democracy’s Data Infrastructure: Technopolitics of the U.S. Census.” With danah boyd. Knight First Amendment Institute 18 March 2021
- "Comment: Love Is a Problem of Knowledge.” Isis 112, no.4 (2021): 804-806.
- "Quantification.” In Information: A Historical Companion. Edited by Ann Blair, et. al., 724-727. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2021.
- "Materializing COVID.” Isis 111, no.4 (2020): 783-786.
- “Error, Uncertainty, and the Shifting Ground of Census Data.” Harvard Data Science Review 2, no.2 (2020)
- D. Bouk, “Generation Crisis: How Population Research Defined the Baby Boomers.” Modern American History 1, no. 3 (2018): 321-342.
- “Women Who Worked with Documents to Rationalize Reproduction.” In Working and Knowing with Paper: Towards a Gendered History of Knowledge, edited by Carla Bittel, et. al. 193-207. Pittsburgh: University of Pittsburgh Press, 2019.
- D. Bouk, “The Fall of the US National Data Center and the Rise of the Data Double.” 48, no. 5 (2018): 627-636.
- D. Bouk, "The History and Political Economy of Personal Data over the Last Two Centuries in Three Acts," Osiris 32 (2017): 85-106.
- D. Bouk, "Tocqueville's Ghost," Historical Studies in the Natural Sciences 42, no. 4 (2012): 329-339.
- D. Bouk, "The Science of Difference: Designing Tools for Discrimination in the American Life Insurance Industry, 1830-1930" Enterprise and Society 12, no. 4 (Dec. 2011): 717-731.
- D. Bouk and D.G. Burnett, "Knowledge of Leviathan: Charles W. Morgan Anatomizes His Whale," Journal of the Early Republic 27(Fall 2008): 433-466.
- D. Bouk, "Drought and Famine: What the Past Teaches Us to Fear Most about Global Climate Change,"(a review) The American Scholar (Spring 2008): 133-136.
- Faculty Fellow at Data & Society Research Institute 2019-2021
- Camp Counselor, History of Capitalism Summer Camp at Cornell University, 2016 (& I was a camper in 2015!)
- Member of the Historicizing Big Data working group and the Working with Paper: Gendered Practices in the History of Knowledge working group at Max Planck Institute for History of Science, Dept. II
- One of the New York Times's 100 notable books for 2022
- Winner of Philip J. Pauly Book Prize from Forum for the History of Science in America (2015)
- Honorable Mention, Annual Book Award for Society for U.S. Intellectual History (2016)
- Postdoctoral Research Fellow, Max Planck Institute for the History of Science (Berlin) 2012-2013
- Phi Eta Sigma Professor of the Year, Colgate University, 2010-2011
- Krooss Prize, Business History Conference, 2011
- Best Dissertation Prize, Forum for the History of Human Sciences, 2010
- Robert Hoffman Scholar, Princeton University, 2008
- Porter Ogden Jacobus Honorific Fellowship, Princeton University, 2008
- Honorable Mention, National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowship, 2004, 2005, 2006
- Andrew Mellon Fellowship in Humanistic Studies, Woodrow Wilson Fellowship Foundation, 2004