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VIRTUAL EVENT: The Sum of the People: How the Census Has Shaped Nations, From the Ancient World to the Modern Age

Wednesday, April 22, 2020 - 6:00pm to 7:00pm
Reception to follow
Free and open to the public

Click here to access the event. 

Virtual Event: The Sum of the People: How the Census Has Shaped Nations, from the Ancient World to the Modern Age

with Andrew Whitby

In April 2020, the United States will embark on what has been called "the largest peacetime mobilization in American history": the decennial population census. It is part of a tradition of counting people that goes back at least three millennia and now spans the globe.

In The Sum of the People, data scientist Andrew Whitby traces the remarkable history of the census, from ancient China and the Roman Empire, through revolutionary America and Nazi-occupied Europe, to the steps of the Supreme Court. Marvels of democracy, instruments of exclusion, and, at worst, tools of tyranny and genocide, censuses have always profoundly shaped the societies we've built. Today, as we struggle to resist the creep of mass surveillance, the traditional census -- direct and transparent -- may offer the seeds of an alternative.

Andrew Whitby is a data scientist who works on innovation, growth and development. He studied economics and computer science at the University of Queensland and received a Ph.D in econometrics from the University of Oxford, where he was an Oxford-Australia James Fairfax scholar. He was appointed a Research Fellow at Nesta, a UK think-tank, before moving to Washington DC to join the Innovation Labs of the World Bank. There, he worked on finding and using unconventional data sets for global development (for example, satellite images and cellphone records). The limitations of such “big data” revived his longstanding interest in traditional statistical surveys such as the census, prompting him to write The Sum of the People—his first book.

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Auto-generated captions are available for most virtual programs. To request live captioning or other accommodations, please contact Hannah Weisman at or 617-720-7617 at least four business days prior to the event.