Mellon Sawyer Seminar Series: Challenging 19th Century Data Legacies (Jo Guldi & Erik Fredner)

Thu February 8th 2024, 5:30 - 7:00pm
Wallenberg 433A

The Data that Divides Us: Recalibrating Data Methods for New Knowledge Frameworks Across the Humanities

From the differentiation of gendered labor (and of gender itself), to the biological arguments for race-based thinking, to the codification of measures and mapping for land ownership and economic development, the statistical imagination of the west in the nineteenth century created the conditions of social classification whose ramifications we are still dealing with today. 

This workshop begins the hard task of unpacking this late nineteenth-century nexus, challenging in particular its data legacies. What conditions underwrote these codifications of race, gender, and development? What do they tell us about the prehistory of data in the centuries before, and what are the consequences of that transformation today? 

Erik Fredner's and Jo Guldi's work in the digital humanities deconstructs the conditions of possibility for, and future ramifications of, this nineteenth-century turn towards data, while aiding the recovery of alternate forms of information design that may help us realize the multi-valent possibilities of data outside of its original narrow historical channels. Please join us for a conversation about past, present, and future possibilities for data. 

If you cannot attend the event in person, you can register for the Zoom link here.


Jo Guldi is professor of Quantitative Methods at Emory University. A data scientist, writer, and historian, she has written about such subjects as the responsible use of Artificial Intelligence, the history and politics of global land use, the origins of state-built infrastructure, the use of data for environmental governance, and quantitative approaches to the text-based archives of the past. She has been a fellow at the Harvard Society of Fellows and the University of Chicago. Her research has appeared in the Atlantic, the Boston Review, the Guardian, Huffington Post, Counterpunch, and Alternet. Find more about her work:,

Erik Fredner is Postdoctoral Research Associate and Lecturer in the College of Arts and Sciences at the University of Virginia. His work has been published or is forthcoming in PMLANineteenth-Century LiteratureThe Cambridge Companion to the NovelThe Nathaniel Hawthorne Review, and elsewhere.

Erik studies literature and culture using computational and critical methods. His first book project shows how US literature over the long nineteenth century began to think statistically. He collaborates on computational literary studies projects with the Stanford Literary Lab and the University of Pennsylvania Price Lab for Digital Humanities.