by Carly Ciufo
Although I doubt the book will make it into my dissertation, the comps text that’s unexpectedly stayed with me is Bruce Curtis’ The Politics of Population: State Formation, Statistics, and the Census of Canada, 1840-1875. With my last post, I talked about the local positionality of national museums. I cited some studies of surveyed data around museums and trust. Receiving some collegial feedback from a colleague on the post brought me back to an early comps session where Curtis was on the table and has got me thinking about why this book has stuck with me ever since.
Curtis’ book is about the ways census collection changed, sought scientific standardization, and was crucial to state formation in mid-nineteenth century Canada. But Curtis also talks a lot about the personalities at play and the incompleteness of data as well as the false categorization of census facts and figures. Sitting across my professor’s desk, I recall a particularly enlivened conversation around the pros and cons of quantitative and qualitative approaches that kept us both on our toes.
“Censuses are not ‘taken,’ they are made,” is the specific bit from Curtis that’s since stayed with me. (34) In thinking through how I work as a historian, this note’s been a crucial element to the question everything approach required when it comes to truth and trust at museums.