Tuesday, November 1

Revolutions in Data, Big and Little

Aaron Hanlon, Assistant Professor of English (Colby)

7:00 PM in Lovejoy 100

Hooke Flea from 1665

Hooke Flea, 1665


For many of us, “seeing is believing”; we’re strongly influenced by an empirical understanding of what constitutes proof (“show me the proof,” as opposed to “explain to me the proof,” “tell me the proof,” etc.). Developments in how we understand data and data science, however, complicate our reliance on empiricism by introducing new standards of statistical significance and methodology, as well as new epistemological problems. This talk will trace a long history of the concept of data in the Anglo-American tradition, starting with the introduction of the word “data” into the English language in the 17th century. We will track the development of the concept of data through the British Enlightenment before addressing the ways that recent cultural developments regarding data are changing how we see, read, and interpret knowledge today. Throughout, this talk will explore the ways that literature and philosophy have contributed to debates about what constitutes data, and how reliable is data as a form of knowledge.

Aaron R. Hanlon is an Assistant Professor of English at Colby College, specializing in 18th century literatures and cultures and the British Enlightenment. His research focuses on the role of literature in Enlightenment political philosophy, particularly theories of exceptionalism; and on the role of literature in shaping Enlightenment notions of how we know what we know.