James R. Barker Professor of Contemporary Civilization

Chair, Contemporary Civilization

history of science, technology, philosophy

Big Data and Science Studies at Center for Science and Society

@nescioquid Github PGP key



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

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

with the support of the Leibniz Fund, and 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

Querying the Archive: Database Mining from Apriori to Page-Rank

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


Reckoning with Matter: Calculating Machines, Innovation, and Thinking about Thinking from Pascal to Babbage (University of Chicago Press, forthcoming 2014)

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)

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

“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.



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

Events and posts

New course: Data and databases, with Adam Parrish

Columbia Journalism Lede Program

Great Exploitations: Data mining, Total Information Awareness, and the NSA

February 25, 2014; 12pm

History of Science, Harvard

Data mining, Total Information Awareness, and the NSA: Exploiting communications, exploiting the law

October 28, 2013, 4pm, E51-095, MIT


October 25, 2013, Miller Theater, Columbia

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

October 21, 2013, UCSD

Re-inventing the (calculating) wheel: imitation, emulation and nescience in the Enlightenment

October 18, Heyman Center, Columbia

Governing Algorithms

May 16-17, 2013, NYU

"Universalizing" Science as Situated Knowledge (Conversation between Steven Shapin and Matthew Jones)

April 18, 2013 at 6:30-8:00pm Komoda Room, Heyman Center

Panel discussion of Lucas Hnath's Isaac's Eye


Scientific American Podcast

Forbes on Big Data

Big Data News of the Week

Data & Hubris