James R. Barker Professor of Contemporary Civilization

history of science, technology, computing, philosophy

Fellow, Data&Society, 2017-2018

Big Data and Science Studies at Center for Science and Society

Email @nescioquid Github PGP key




Pitt's Information Ecosystems Podcast, with Sarah Conell

"The Ethics of Big Data"Future Hindsight with Mila Atmos


How Data Happened (forthcoming from Norton, 2021) (with Chris Wiggins)


Great Exploitations: Data Mining, Legal Modernization, and the NSA

Video of Berkeley lecture

In a hurry? A shorter video A Brief History of Surveillance State Technology

Data Mining: The Critique of Artificial Reason, 1963-2005

with the support of the Leibniz Fund, and previously the Guggenheim and Mellon Foundations

The Genealogy of Frivolity: Mathematical Formalism and its Discontents in the European Enlightenment

with the support of the Defining Wisdom Project

Working Papers

Sovereignty, Genealogy, History: The Technical and Decorous in Leibniz's Courtly Work

From Sociability to Vis-Viva: Emilie Du Châtelet on Social and Natural Order (under review)

Decorum, discovery and magical thinking, Leibniz to 'DataViz’

Algorithmic Accountability Worth the Name; or, The Tragic History of Accountability of Data Denied, Defied, and perhaps Ascendant Anew

Through the List-Serve, Darkly: User Groups and the Emergence of Data Mining in the 1990s.


"Decision trees, random forests, and the genealogy of the black box,” Algorithmic Modernity: Mechanizing Thought and Action, 1500-2000, Massimo Mazzotti and Morgan Ames, ed. (Oxford, forthcoming).

"Programming,” in Information: A Historical Companion. Ann Blair, Paul Duguid, Anja Goeing, Anthony Grafton, eds. (Princeton University Press, 2020), 703-708.

"Creating Uncertainty, Casting Doubt: US Intelligence Leaks from Intelligence Reform to Spyware for Sale,” in Exposing Secrets: The Forgotten History of U.S. National Security Whistleblowing and the Challenge of Dissent, Kaetan Mistry and Hannah Gurman, eds. (Columbia University Press, 2019), 243-270.

“How We Became Instrumentalists (Again): Data Positivism since World War II.” Historical Studies in the Natural Sciences 48, no. 5 (November 1, 2018): 673–84.

The spy who pwned me, Limn, edd. Chris Kelty and Biella Coleman, Issue 8.

“Calculating Machine” in Maria-Rosa Antognazza, ed. Oxford Handbook of Leibniz (forthcoming, Oxford)

“Calculating Devices and Computers,” Companion to the History of Science, ed. Bernie Lightman (Wiley, 2016) Preprint

"Querying the Archive: Database Mining from Apriori to Page-Rank,"Science in the Archive, Lorraine Daston, ed. (University of Chicago Press, 2017) Preprint

Reckoning with Matter: Calculating Machines, Innovation, and Thinking about Thinking from Pascal to Babbage (University of Chicago Press, 2016)

with the support of the Leibniz Fund and National Science Foundation

“Data and Hubris” in Rachel Schutt and Cathy O'Neill, eds. Doing Data Science (O'Reilly, 2014)

“Reason, Calculating Machines and Efficient Causation” in Tad Schmaltz, ed. Efficient Causation: The History of a Concept (Oxford, 2014)

“Space, Evidence, and the Authority of Mathematics in the Eighteenth Century” in Aaron Garrett, ed. Routledge Companion to Eighteenth-Century Philosophy (Routledge, 2014)

“Improvement for Profit: Calculating Machines and the Prehistory of Intellectual Property,” Mario Biagioli and Jessica Riskin, eds., Nature Engaged: Science in Practice from the Renaissance to the Present (Palgrave-MacMillan, 2012)

“d(scientist)/dt,” Science 333(2011):1382-3. (Review of Peter Harrison, Ronald Numbers and Michael H. Shank, eds. Wrestling with Nature: From Omens to Science [Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2011]).

Essay review of Lorraine Daston and Peter Galison, Objectivity, (2007), Metascience, 21 (2012).

Essay review of Emilie Du Châtelet, Selected Philosophical and Scientific Writings. Bour and Zinsser, trans. (2009) H-France 11(2011), No. 229.

"Matters of Fact” [Essay review of Harold Cook, Matters of Exchange (Yale 2007)] Modern Intellectual History 7,3 (2010): 629-642.

The Good Life in the Scientific Revolution: Descartes, Pascal, Leibniz and the Cultivation of Virtue (University of Chicago Press, 2006). See now Stéphane Van Damme's essay review (Eng.) (Fr.) in Annales HSS 2012/1.

“Three Errors about Indifference: Pascal on the Vacuum, Sociability and Moral Freedom,” Romance Quarterly 50(2003):99-120.

“Writing and Sentiment: Blaise Pascal, the Vacuum and the Pensées,”  Studies in History and Philosophy of Science, 32(2001):139-181.

“Descartes' Geometry as Spiritual Exercise,” Critical Inquiry, 28(2001): 40-71; reprinted in Bill Brown, ed. Things. (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2004): 40-71.



Fall 2016

Introduction to Contemporary Civilization in the West

Spring 2017

Introduction to Contemporary Civilization in the West

data: past, present, future (with Chris Wiggins)

Spring 2016


Fall 2015

Computing in Context

Methods in History of Science (with Deborah Coen)

Summer 2015

Data and databases, with Allison Parrish, Columbia Journalism Lede Program

Spring 2015

Computing in Context

Summer 2014

Data and databases, with Allison Parrish, Columbia Journalism Lede Program


Introduction to Contemporary Civilization in the West

Meta(Introduction to Contemporary Civilization in the West)


Topics in Historiography and the Philosophy of History


The Scientific Revolution in Western Europe, 1500-1750

Introduction to Contemporary Civilization in the West


History of Computing from (Blaise) Pascal to the Internet

Introduction to Contemporary Civilization in the West

Methods in History of Science (with Marwa Elshakry)

Foucault for Historians (with Samuel Moyn)

Past Courses


The European Renaissance, 1400-1600: an introduction


Science Across Cultures [Global Core]

Civilizing Processes, 1500-1750

Subjects and Objects of Renaissance Knowledge


Introduction to Historical Interpretation and Methods

Topics in Early Modern European Cultural and Intellectual History: Institutions of Knowledge and Belief

Office Hours

By appointment


Department of History

Columbia University

514 Fayerweather Hall

1180 Amsterdam Ave.


New York, NY 10027


PGP 3087 262B 19ED 22A0 C0F4 24F5 4F18 FDA4 DF39 29E5





Leibniz, 7.1677 transport mechanism for calculating machine