Dan Bouk, "Democracy's Data: The Hidden Stories in the U.S. Census and How to Read Them" (MCD, 2022)


Dan Bouk is a writer, professor, and cultural historian of quantification, or as Bouk puts it, the history all fascinating things “shrouded in the cloak of borningness.” In Bouk’s book, Democracy’s Data: The Hidden Stories in the U.S. Census and How to Read Them (2022), the author invites readers into the social life of 1940 US Census. The stories of the people who wrote the question, asked the questions, and answered them—or refused—is a lesson in how power is negotiated on the ground. Bouk shows that the census questions were—and are—not only queries but also statements about what matters, who counts, and the values and lifeways celebrated and suppressed in American democracy.

The book is written with such humor, tenderness, and insight that it is worth offering friends as a gift. It received a rave review in the New York Times and will be of immediate interest to readers interested in Science & Technology Studies, American History, the data sciences, and social justice.

This interview was a collaborative effort among Professor Laura Stark and graduate students at Vanderbilt University in the course, “American Medicine & the World.” Please email Laura with any feedback on the interview or questions about how to design collaborative interview projects for the classroom. Email: laura.stark@vanderbilt.edu.

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Laura Stark

Laura Stark is Associate Professor at Vanderbilt University’s Center for Medicine, Health, and Society.

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