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This course places contemporary excitement and fears about “Big Data” in a long historical context. Much is new about the way corporations, governments, and individuals use massive computational resources to search for patterns. But those who use big data draw on legacies from well before the computer age for data management, visualization, and analysis.

We will trace the long history of big data through four parallel strands:

  1. The rise of massive systems of data collection by states in the 19th century through institutions like the census and the military.

  2. The attempts of businesses to collect and use data to control their markets and their workers.

  3. The relationship of data to the sciences.

  4. The different eras of computing in the last 80 years, and the ways that social forces shaped the development of computing.

This class is listed as a lecture, but will be run in a hybrid lecture-discussion format.

A note on readings and schedules

The schedule printed in this syllabus is likely to change. The course website listed on the front page of the paper documents will reflect the most recent available information. Please bookmark the course site.