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Chris Wiggins and Matthew L. Jones at Harvard Science Center

May 3, 2023 @ 6:00 pm


May 3, 2023
6:00 pm
Event Categories:


Harvard Book Store
(617) 661-1515


How Data Happened:
A History from the Age of Reason
to the Age of Algorithms

How Data Happened: A History from the Age of Reason to the Age of Algorithms

Harvard Book Store, the Harvard University Division of Science, and the Harvard Library welcome CHRIS WIGGINS—associate professor of applied mathematics at Columbia University and the Chief Data Scientist at The New York Timesand MATTHEW L. JONES—professor of history at Columbia University—for a discussion of their new book How Data Happened: A History from the Age of Reason to the Age of Algorithms.

A Return to In-Person Events

Harvard Book Store is excited to be back to in-person programming. To ensure the safety and comfort of everyone in attendance, the following Covid-19 safety protocols will be in place at all of our Harvard Science Center events until further notice:

  • All attendees are encouraged to wear masks. Performers may be unmasked.
  • All attendees must attest to their current health status (e.g., no current infection, symptoms or recent exposure to others with COVID-19)
  • All attendees must self-attest to the following:
  1. I am fully vaccinated against COVID-19 using a vaccine authorized by the FDA or WHO and have received my booster (if eligible), or
  2. I qualify for exemption based upon age, a medical contraindication, or firmly held religious belief.
  3. I also agree to immediately share with Harvard University Health Services any proof of my vaccination status if I am identified as an exposed person through public health contact tracing efforts.
  4. If not fully vaccinated, I have received a negative COVID-19 PCR or antigen test result in the last 24 hours.

For more information regarding Harvard University’s Covid-19 safety protocols, please visit their website here.


There are two ticket options available for this event.

Free General Admission Ticket: Includes admission for one.

Book-Included Ticket: Includes admission for one and one hardcover copy of How Data Happened.

About How Data Happened:

From facial recognition―capable of checking people into flights or identifying undocumented residents―to automated decision systems that inform who gets loans and who receives bail, each of us moves through a world determined by data-empowered algorithms. But these technologies didn’t just appear: they are part of a history that goes back centuries, from the census enshrined in the US Constitution to the birth of eugenics in Victorian Britain to the development of Google search.

Expanding on the popular course they created at Columbia University, Chris Wiggins and Matthew L. Jones illuminate the ways in which data has long been used as a tool and a weapon in arguing for what is true, as well as a means of rearranging or defending power. They explore how data was created and curated, as well as how new mathematical and computational techniques developed to contend with that data serve to shape people, ideas, society, military operations, and economies. Although technology and mathematics are at its heart, the story of data ultimately concerns an unstable game among states, corporations, and people. How were new technical and scientific capabilities developed; who supported, advanced, or funded these capabilities or transitions; and how did they change who could do what, from what, and to whom?

Wiggins and Jones focus on these questions as they trace data’s historical arc, and look to the future. By understanding the trajectory of data―where it has been and where it might yet go―Wiggins and Jones argue that we can understand how to bend it to ends that we collectively choose, with intentionality and purpose.

Praise for How Data Happened:

“This is the first comprehensive look at the history of data and how power has played a critical role in shaping the history. It’s a must read for any data scientist about how we got here and what we need to do to ensure that data works for everyone.” ―DJ Patil, former U.S. Chief Data Scientist

“Sometimes the best way to understand the present and prepare for the future is to look to the past. This insight is at the core of How Data Happened, an ambitious and thoughtful work … that will reshape how you will see the relationship between data and society.” ―Matthew J. Salganik, Professor, Department of Sociology, Princeton University, and author of Bit by Bit: Social Research in the Digital Age

“An essential, authoritative history of the increasing power of data, how new capabilities have transformed society, and what we must do to ensure that today’s technology reflects our norms and values.” ―Renee DiResta, technical research manager, Stanford Internet Observatory