Past Event

Barbara Naddeo - Political Information and Science in the Age of Enlightenment

February 24, 2016
6:00 PM - 8:00 PM
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NYU Gallatin (Room 801), 1 Washington Place, New York

Speaker: Barbara Naddeo, Associate Professor of History, CUNY: The City College of New York and The Graduate Center

In the early modern period the most fundamental social statistics of the age’s monarchies, from demographics to public finances, were considered to be the property of the king, whose officers most jealously archived and selectively employed them in the service of royal power. With the age of Enlightenment these same statistics became the objects of inquiry of a new breed of professionals, public intellectuals in the service of the state, who not only flanked the court but also laid public claim to its privy data, which formed the basis for both their commissioned policy recommendations and development of a science of the territorial state, or what the age called “statistics.” One such public servant and protagonist of European statistics was Giuseppe Maria Galanti (born Santa Croce del Sannio, 1743; died Naples, 1806), who with the support of the crown undertook the survey of a territorial state that was truly encyclopedic in breadth, namely the Geographical and Political Description of the Sicilies (4 vols.; 2 ed.s, Naples, 1786—94), which represented a milestone in the history of European descriptive statistics–if not arguably the first, it was one of the very earliest survey accounts of an European territorial state that published extensive archival data illustrative of the demographics, public finances and natural resources of its subject territory. A sanctioned work, Galanti’s survey raises what are interesting but difficult questions about the early modern state’s objectives for statistics, about the politics of data gathering, as well as about the reception of that data for the political culture of the state’s subjects and even the ranks of its own members, or bureaucracy as it were. Indeed, these questions invite us to revisit the history of the territorial state’s science from an ontological point of view–that is, to retrace its genealogy from the vantage point of the biography, or institutional life, of the data it archived about the peoples and territories of the state. As this talk will show, among the things to be gained from such a biographical approach are the illustration of the informational basis for the authority of the territorial state, the rationale of its territorial initiatives and (administrative) reforms, as well as the articulation of its public sphere at the cusp of modernity.

This event is free and open to the public.

This event is part of the New York History of Science Lecture Series.

Sponsoring Organizations:
New York University
Gallatin School of Individualized Study
Columbia University in the City of New York
City University of New York
The New York Academy of Sciences
The New York Academy of Medicine