How surveys expressed the USA;

How surveys expressed the USA: A study of government statistics during the interwar period

Emmanuel Didier

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We see here the federal Secretary of Agriculture, Henry A. Wallace, who was particularly interested in statistics (he had even written a scientific paper on the topic while he was young) examining (left) and signing (right) a statistical crop report in the 1930’s. The signature of the Secretary was mandatory before the issuing of these results.

My project here at MPIWG is to turn my Ph.D. dissertation, which was finished in 2001, into a book under contract with INED press in France. The provisional title of the book reads Comment les sondages ont exprimé l’Amérique. Une histoire des enquêtes partielles aux Etats-Unis pendant l’Entre-deux-guerre.

The purpose of the book is twofold. On the one hand, I am interested in the huge growth of statistical surveys realized by the US government during the interwar period. I am looking particularly close at those produced by the Department of Agriculture and by the Department of Labour. My aim is to analyze how new methods - and particularly random sampling - were developed during this period. On the other hand, my study shows how this new source of information about the nation was related to a new way of defining the nation (as there was the need of a new statistical definition of the US to make these surveys possible) and of governing the nation: the New Deal would not have become what is was without the new type of data; my book serves to explain why.

Finally, by showing how a new way of producing knowledge was linked to a new type of government, I characterize, by the means of the concept of expression, the precise link between knowledge and government. I argue that statistics and government have expressed a new America.

We see here the federal Secretary of Agriculture, Henry A. Wallace, who was particularly interested in statistics (he had even written a scientific paper on the topic while he was young) examining (left) and signing (right) a statistical crop report in the 1930’s. The signature of the Secretary was mandatory before the issuing of these results.