A fortune teller, cotton prophet, and a weather forecaster walk into a bar—probably a more common occurrence than you might think in the Gilded Age United States! Jamie Pietruska’s Looking Forward: Prediction and Uncertainty in Modern America (University of Chicago Press, 2017) assesses how different varieties of forecasting created an often-contradictory “culture of prediction” during the rise of modern bureaucracies. Looking to the countryside, her book engages histories of capitalism to think about how everyday rural Americans engaged with the rise of probability, and how private and state forecasters competed for authority and audiences for their figures.
Mikey McGovern is a PhD candidate in Princeton University’s Program in the History of Science. He is writing a dissertation on how people used discrimination statistics to argue about rights in 1970s America, and what this means for histories of bureaucracy, quantification, law, politics, and race.