Current Institutional Affiliation
Assistant Professor, History, University of Massachusetts / Amherst

Award Information

International Dissertation Research Fellowship 2012
Institutional Affiliation (at time of award):
History, Columbia University
Daring to Ask: The Questionnaire and the Problem of Knowledge in the Late Eighteenth Century British Atlantic Enlightenment

This dissertation examines the rise and extensive use of the questionnaire as a technique for investigating the social, political, economic, and agricultural life of the British North American colonies between the end of the Seven Years' War in 1763 and the aftermath of American independence. In this Enlightenment era of an expanding public sphere, new media technologies, and imperial state-formation, British and colonial intellectuals, governing institutions, commercial bodies, and civil society organizations used questionnaires as a technology by which they sought to systematically investigate the social, political, and cultural environment of the North American territories, newly acquired as a consequence of British victory over France and Spain. Questionnaires were crucial instruments for satisfying both the exigencies of effective governance at a distance, and the intellectual curiosity of intellectuals, scientists, and knowledge associations. By investigating the history of the questionnaire in the late eighteenth century British Atlantic empire, this dissertation places the history of the Enlightenment state and civil society in the same analytical perspective, highlighting both the global and imperial dimensions of these histories, and the centrality of the mediation of information to understanding the ideological shifts and the functioning of institutions touched by the expansion of empire. By exploring how questionnaires were used by late eighteenth century Britain to produce intellectual geographies of the world, my dissertation promises to have direct relevance to understanding the development of a practice central to modern qualitative social science.