GHI Spring Lecture Series 2016

Measuring Risk and Human Needs: New Perspectives From the History of Knowledge

Organized by Simone Lässig, Christine von Oertzen, and Anna Echterhölter

Hardly a day passes without the print and broadcast media presenting agonizing images of people in crisis situations. But where the general public sees danger and suffering, the government officials and aid workers responsible for responding to emergencies see numbers. Their knowledge of risk and need is largely shaped by statistics, algorithms, and databases. These forms of quantification are by no means neutral, however. What governments or international agencies decide to measure and the standards of measurement they adopt are decisive in determining who receives help and how much.

The German Historical Institute's Spring 2016 Lecture Series will explore the measurement of human needs from a historical perspective. The four speakers, each taking a different case study, will trace how quantification became a fundamental instrument in responding to famine, war, risk, poverty, and migration. They will consider the different approaches employed to quantify risks to both individuals and communities, and they will highlight the effects and consequences that the growing reliance on quantification has produced in contending with the unpredictable.

The lecture series was organized in cooperation with the Max Planck Institute for the History of Science.

All lectures take place on Thursdays and begin at 6:30 pm (refreshments will be served from 6:00 to 6:30 pm). They will be held at the German Historical Institute, 1607 New Hampshire Avenue NW, Washington D.C. Please RSVP (acceptances only) by Tel. 202.387.3355, E-mail.

  • Pure Numbers - Dirty Habits: Defining the Standard of Living in the Early German Hygienic Movement
    March 10, 2016
    Speaker: Bernhard Kleeberg (University of Basel)

  • Handling Big Numbers: The Logistics of Granaries and Famine Relief
    March 31, 2016
    Speaker: Monika Dommann (University of Zurich)

  • Science, Risk, and the Making of Statistical Individuals: How Corporations Numbered Americans' Days and Valued Their Lives
    April 21, 2016
    Speaker: Dan Bouk (Colgate University

  • Measuring Human Needs: Statistics, Humanitarianism, and the Politics of Famine in Modern India
    May 5, 2016
    Speaker: Anindita Nag (German Historical Institute Washington)
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