COUNTING PEOPLE: The Census in History by Hyman Alterman
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COUNTING PEOPLE: The Census in History

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The better one understands the 'language' of the census, the more one can learn about the people whose history it keeps."" Read closely--as it must be--this monumental study of how and when populations have been counted (or haven't been), of what the results were and their import, is absorbing and in the broadest sense educational. In ancient times tabulations determined taxation and military duty, and were therefore regarded with suspicion, an attitude that persists in some places today; so does the fear, stemming from David's ill-fated order to ""number Israel,"" that census-taking is somehow sinful, that bad luck will come to those counted (wherefore the omission of infants). The comprehensive enumeration of enumerations in the early sections may try some readers but the discussion of census-taking and population policy in the Communist world, and most tellingly, of uncounting, undercounting and trying to count Africans is refreshing grass-roots social science. (In the Sudan, whose ""first-time self-appraisal"" is described in detail, family relationship was determined by who shared the cooking pot, a baby's age by ability to walk.) Significantly, the United States was the first country to initiate their statistics ""on the very day they formed their government""; how this came about--i.e. ""The Road to Article 1, Section 2"" including the Great Compromise--precedes attention to census issues, methods and results to the present. Particularly and uniquely valuable is the extensive discussion of how Indians and Negroes were and were not counted--because they didn't count. Drawing on the research and opinions of leading demographers, this is at once a lucid synthesis, an original projection, a parallel history--and a useful complement to Ann Herbert Scott's methodologically-oriented Census U.S.A. (1968, p. 1347, J-527).

Pub Date: Oct. 15th, 1969
Publisher: Harcourt, Brace & World