My areas of interest include cultural history, the history of science and technology, agro-environmental history, the history of capitalism, the history of forecasting, and the history of bureaucracy and paperwork. My research focuses on the production and circulation of knowledge in nineteenth and early twentieth-century America.
My first book, Looking Forward: Prediction and Uncertainty in Modern America (University of Chicago Press, 2017), is a history of forecasting in the United States from the 1860s to the 1920s that reveals how methods of prediction and ideas about uncertainty changed as Americans reckoned with what novelist William Dean Howells recognized as the “economic chance-world” of the late nineteenth century. In the decades after the Civil War, Americans battled over the accuracy and legitimacy of predictions and struggled with the question of whether it was possible to look into the future with any degree of certainty. By tracing the production, circulation, and reception of crop estimates, weather forecasts, commodity price forecasts, Edward Bellamy’s best-selling utopian novel Looking Backward, and the predictions of fortune-tellers, this book revises historians’ understanding of the late nineteenth century as a search for order by arguing that a search for predictability yielded just the opposite: it led Americans to comprehend and accept the uncertainties of modern economic life.
My current research project examines the importance of paperwork and bureaucracy to the investigations that shaped late nineteenth and early twentieth-century American capitalism, government, and culture. It explores how the routinized, material, and quotidian bureaucratic practices of paperwork played a crucial role in organizing information and producing knowledge in a far-reaching culture of investigation in a modernizing America. Drawing together detective agencies, commodity exchanges, postal inspectors, Spiritualist investigators, and federal investigations of immigration, public health, and crime, this project explores how paperwork and bureaucracy shaped Americans’ experiences of economic life and their relationship to the state.
Works in Progress
“Paperwork, Bureaucracy, and the Case of the Two Pinkerton Detective Agencies,” article manuscript in preparation.
“Investigating the Future Life: The Seybert Commission, Paperwork, and the Material Culture of American Spiritualism,” article manuscript in preparation.
“Paper Trails: Paperwork, Bureaucracy, and Investigation in the Late Nineteenth and Early Twentieth-Century United States,” book-length research project in progress.