Anthropology’s Most Documented Man, Ca. 1947: A Prefiguration of Big Data from the Big Social Science Era

Don C. Talayesva in Santa Barbara CA
Don Talayesva

The 2017 issue of Osiris is dedicated to Data Histories and includes a piece on big data in mid-twentieth century social science that may be of interest to AHP readers.

“Anthropology’s Most Documented Man, Ca. 1947: A Prefiguration of Big Data from the Big Social Science Era,” by Rebecca Lemov. Abstract:

“Big Data,” a descriptive term of relatively recent origin, has as one of its key effects the radically increased harnessing of ever-more-personal information accrued in the course of pedestrian life. This essay takes a historical view of the amassing and sharing of personal data, examining the genealogy of the “personal” and psychological elements inherent in Big Data through the case of an American Indian man who (the reigning experts claimed) gained the status of the most documented single individual in the history of modern anthropology. Although raised a traditional Hopi Indian in Oraibi, Arizona, Don Talayesva (1890–1985) gave over his life materials to scientists at prominent universities and constituted in and of himself a “vast data set” long before such practices were common. This essay uses this pioneering data set (partially preserved in the Human Relations Area Files and its web-based full-text database, eHRAF) to examine the distinctiveness of Big Data in relation to the personal, psychological realm; finally, a comparison is made with twenty-first-century data-collection practices of quantifying the self.

About Jacy Young

Jacy Young recently completed a Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council (SSHRC) of Canada Postdoctoral Fellow at the University of Surrey in the UK. She earned her doctorate in the History and Theory of Psychology at York University in 2014.