Skip to main content
Notes
  • Free and open to the public
  • First come, first seated
B&W photo of person at desk in front of several monitors displaying views of a city

Among the most striking trends charted in the humanities in recent years has been the remarkable investment made in trying to understand modern capitalism. This conference seeks to profit from that boom by bringing together a range of scholars from the various disciplines that have developed novel methods for studying economic life: history, sociology, anthropology, science and technology studies, literary studies, as well as economics, accounting, and business studies. Organizing the conference will be the theme of calculation. Participants are invited to present papers that examine the place of computations, computational technologies, and the individuals who carry them out within the activities of capitalism. “Calculation” is understood expansively, encompassing a wide range of technicality, from the rudiments of commercial accounting to the most intricate algorithms of current quantitative finance. Economic calculation might be found in many places: the budgeting practices of the family, the capital expenditure decisions of the corporate manager, the investment theses of the financier, the theoretical models of the academic economist, the public accounts of the state. It is hoped that examples will be drawn from a wide range of geographies and time periods, from the early-modern period to the present day.

Participants are particularly encouraged to reflect on how calculations encode the values—economic but also moral, political, and epistemological—of capitalism. How have particular calculations shaped (and continue to shape) market activities, as well as the regulations that govern them and the ethical expectations to which they are held? What cultural, social, and historical factors have been most important in shaping capitalism’s essential calculations? What calculations have come to define what qualifies as rational economic behavior, for individuals, firms, or governments? How have calculations come to measure political-economic success, whether for a credit-seeking individual, a corporate CEO, or a “developing” nation? What role have calculations served in reconciling or exacerbating the political tensions produced by capitalism? Have calculations promoted economic accessibility, both in the sense of facilitating commercial and governmental transparency and in making business activities open to a greater number of people? What role do scholars, particularly those adopting humanistic and qualitative methods, have to play in shaping our economy’s quantitative future?

Program

time9:15am - 9:30am EDT

Welcome and Introductory Remarks: William Deringer, Society of Fellows in the Humanities

time9:30am - 11:30am EDT

Panel I: "Reasons"
Chair

Timothy Alborn

Professor of History

Unfolding Rationality: Visual Memory, Performative Accounting and Order

Paolo Quattrone

Chair in Accounting Governance & Social Innovation

University of Edinburgh Business School

Calculating Characters in Victorian Fiction

Nancy Henry

Professor

University of Tennessee, Knoxville

Excavating Data Tombs: Business Data Mining and the Critique of Artificial Reason

Matthew L. Jones

James R. Barker Professor of Contemporary Civilization

Columbia University

time12:00pm - 1:30pm EDT

Break I

time1:30pm - 3:30pm EDT

Panel II: "Values"
Chair

Elizabeth Blackmar

Professor of History

Columbia University

The Economic Trinity of Excess, Prudence and Surplus in the Classical Oikos, the Christian Ecclesia and the Liberal Market: A Sketch

Dotan Leshem

Visiting Scholar

Institute for Comparative Literature and Society

Calculating Consequences: Bentham, George Eliot and Models of Expected Value

Dermot Coleman

Founder and Director

Sisu Capital Limited

A Calculating Atlantic: Distance, Management, and Moral Reckoning

Caitlin Rosenthal

Assistant Professor

University of California, Berkeley

time3:30pm - 4:00pm EDT

Break II

time4:00pm - 5:30pm EDT

Keynote Talk
Introduction

William Deringer

Assistant Professor of Science, Technology, and Society

Massachusetts Institute of Technology

A Sociology of Algorithms: Practices, Boundaries, and Linked Ecologies in High-Frequency Trading

Donald MacKenzie

Professor

University of Edinburgh

time8:45am - 9:00am EDT

Welcome and arrival

time9:00am - 11:00am EDT

Panel III: "Futures"
Chair

Rebecca Woods

Assistant Professor

University of Toronto

Calculating the Value of the Future in the Early Modern Past

William Deringer

Assistant Professor of Science, Technology, and Society

Massachusetts Institute of Technology

Weather Prophets and Cotton Profits: Forecasts, Markets, and the State in the Gilded Age

Jamie Pietruska

Assistant Professor

Rutgers University

Calculations and the Futures of Student Debt

time11:00am - 11:15am EDT

Break III

time11:15am - 1:15pm EDT

Panel IV: "Data"`
Chair

Christopher Phillips

Assistant Professor and Faculty Fellow

New York University

The Politics of Data: Eugenics, Race, and Life Insurance in Interwar America

Dan Bouk

Assistant Professor of History

Colgate University

Automating Away the Intermediary: The Techno-Politics of Market Shaping

Yuval Millo

Professor of Social Studies of Finance and Management Accounting

University of Leicester

The Gaming of Chance: Online Poker Software and the Potentialization of Uncertainty

Natasha Schull

Associate Professor

Massachusetts Institute of Technology

time1:15pm - 2:30pm EDT

Break IV

time2:30pm - 4:30pm EDT

Panel V: "Measurements"
Chair

Gustav Peebles

Associate Dean of Faculty Affairs

The New School

The Pricing of Progressivism: Irving Fisher and the Spirit of Capitalism

Eli Cook

Mellon Foundation Postdoctoral Fellow

Rutgers Center for Historical Analysis, Rutgers University

Visualizing Uncertainties vs. Cost-Benefit Analysis: Albert Hirschman and Project Evaluation

Michele Alacevich

Assistant Professor of History and Director of Global Studies

Loyola University, Maryland

Capital Calculated: Thomas Piketty in Historical Context

Timothy Shenk

Jacob K. Javits Fellow in History

Columbia University

time4:30pm - 4:45pm EDT

Break V

time4:45pm - 5:15pm EDT

Concluding Discussion
Participants
  • Michele Alacevich Assistant Professor of History and Director of Global Studies Loyola University, Maryland
  • Timothy Alborn Professor of History
  • Elizabeth Blackmar Professor of History Columbia University
  • Dan Bouk Assistant Professor of History Colgate University
  • Dermot Coleman Founder and Director Sisu Capital Limited
  • Eli Cook Mellon Foundation Postdoctoral Fellow Rutgers Center for Historical Analysis, Rutgers University
  • William Deringer Assistant Professor of Science, Technology, and Society Massachusetts Institute of Technology
  • Nancy Henry Professor University of Tennessee, Knoxville
  • Matthew L. Jones James R. Barker Professor of Contemporary Civilization Columbia University
  • Dotan Leshem Visiting Scholar Institute for Comparative Literature and Society
  • Donald MacKenzie Professor University of Edinburgh
  • Yuval Millo Professor of Social Studies of Finance and Management Accounting University of Leicester
  • Gustav Peebles Associate Dean of Faculty Affairs The New School
  • Christopher Phillips Assistant Professor and Faculty Fellow New York University
  • Jamie Pietruska Assistant Professor Rutgers University
  • Paolo Quattrone Chair in Accounting Governance & Social Innovation University of Edinburgh Business School
  • Caitlin Rosenthal Assistant Professor University of California, Berkeley
  • Natasha Schull Associate Professor Massachusetts Institute of Technology
  • Timothy Shenk Jacob K. Javits Fellow in History Columbia University
  • Jacob Soll Professor of History and Accounting University of Southern California
  • Rebecca Woods Assistant Professor University of Toronto
  • Caitlin Zaloom Associate Professor of Social and Cultural Analysis, Director of Metropolitan Studies New York University