My areas of interest include cultural history, the history of science and technology, envirotech, the history of capitalism, and histories of the future, forecasting, data, 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, “Data Driven: Information and Investigation in the Late Nineteenth- and Early Twentieth-Century United States,” traces the history of how data became central to major investigations that shaped late nineteenth and early twentieth-century American capitalism, government, and society. It explores how the routinized, material, and quotidian bureaucratic practices of data production and paperwork played a crucial role in the organization, classification, and circulation of information in a far-reaching culture of investigation in a modernizing America. In the wide-ranging contexts of detective agencies, commodity exchanges, postal inspectors, Spiritualist investigators, and federal investigations of immigration, public health, and crime, this project explores how data, paperwork, and bureaucracy shaped Americans’ experiences of economic life and their relationship to the state.
Works in Progress
“The Case of the Competing Pinkertons: Managing Reputation through the Paperwork and Bureaucracy of Surveillance,” in Surveillance Capitalism in America: From Slavery to Social Media, ed. Josh Lauer and Kenneth Lipartito (University of Pennsylvania Press, forthcoming October 2021).
“Investigating the Future Life: The Seybert Commission, Paperwork, and the Material Culture of American Spiritualism,” article manuscript in preparation.
“Data Driven: Information and Investigation in the Late Nineteenth- and Early Twentieth-Century United States,” book-length research project in progress.