Historicizing Big Data

October 31 to November 2
Elena Aronova, Christine von Oertzen, David Sepkoski
Max Planck Institute for the History of Science, Boltzmannstraße 22, 14195 Berlin
Since the late 20th century, huge databases have become ubiquitous throughout the natural and human sciences, and the term “Big Data” has become a buzzword for describing an ostensibly new and distinctive mode of knowledge production. This conference examines the material culture, epistemology, practice, and cultural and political history of data in the modern sciences in critical historical perspective. While Big Data is often associated with the era of computer databases, participants will also explore important continuities with data practices stretching back to the 18th century and earlier. The conference will historicize the material cultures and practices of data in a broad context, including the development of information processing technologies (whether paper-based or mechanical); the relationships between collections of physical objects and collections of data; and visualizations and representations of data (graphs, images, printouts, etc.), both as working tools and also as means of communication. The conference will bring together scholars studying data from a variety of different disciplinary, temporal, and methodological perspectives, in the hopes both of identifying the important central problems in a history of data and of generating new lines of inquiry for the future. Interested scholars from both within and outside the MPIWG may attend the conference as guests, but since space will be limited they are asked to register by sending an email to Mala Shah (mshah@mpiwg-berlin.mpg.de) before October 15. Questions or inquiries about the conference itself can be directed to Dr. David Sepkoski (dsepkoski@mpiwg-berlin.mpg.de).