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Journal Article

Paper Knowledge and Statistical Precision


Oertzen,  Christine von
Research Group Data, Media, Mind, Max Planck Institute for the History of Science, Max Planck Society;

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Oertzen, C. v. (2023). Paper Knowledge and Statistical Precision. Isis, 114(2), 380-386. doi:10.1086/724775.

Cite as: https://hdl.handle.net/21.11116/0000-000D-2F78-9
This essay explores the material imperatives of nineteenth-century statistical ambition, at a time when the nature of paper itself underwent rapid change. It expands the concept of paper technologies to include knowledge about the materials themselves, as well as the infrastructures, techniques, and agreements that made it possible for the right kind of paper to be made available for particular purposes. Taking the production of the forms for the Prussian census as a case in point, it argues that the enumeration effort of Prussian census statisticians went far beyond designing a form, collecting information, noting and compiling figures, or creating tables. Paper knowledge to define and control the material substance of the forms mattered as much as political impetus and statistical methods in getting the census right.