Quantitative methods and oppression in America: an intersectional timeline (1619-Present).

You can go directly to the visual of the timeline here – opens in a new tab – (note that the explanation of the timeline is below it).


This timeline came about while working on an article about bias and quantitative methods — the idea that statistics are contextual, and that statistics, particularly as used in the social sciences, have been tools of oppression.

So, as I was writing the history of quantitative methods, and how they have been used, and misused, I was struggling with 2 things: how to include everything that I felt needed to be included, and how to un-silo all the information I was reading. There is so much information out there, and so many scholars writing about this topic, that, at least for me, everything was very siloed. I was reading scholars like Tukufu Zuberi who is writing about race and statistics, Cathy O’Neil talking about algorithms, Virginia Eubanks who discusses inequality and data systems as they relate to socioeconomic class, Ruha Benjamin and her discussion of the intersection of race and technology, Safiya Noble and her work on search engines, Caroline Criado Perez discussing the gendered nature of the world and data, and Michelle Alexander and her history of Jim Crow. In my head I was seeing how everything was connected, but I was struggling with capturing this incredible story that, collectively, these authors – and others – are telling. In order to be able to write a history of bias in quantitative methods I needed to visualize it.

I am a visual person, but I struggle with translating what I can see in my head to something that others can see as well. I spent a lot of time playing with different pieces of visualization software. Ultimately I needed something that could respond to a spreadsheet where I was keeping all this information. I didn’t want something where I had to manipulate every moment I was capturing. Not being a programmer I also needed something that already existed. What I’ve created isn’t what I ultimately want, but the website I am using is one that meets most of my needs.

I need to note that this timeline has taken a much larger amount of time than I expected, and it is not done. When I first started it, I focused on the horrible acts of oppression that have occurred on this land that is called America, but, as I learned about all these horrible acts, I was also reminded of, and, learned about, acts of resistence and liberation. While the initial purpose of this timeline was to show the intersection of colonialism, militarism/imperialism, politics / government, economics, science and education and the oppressive impacts of these institutions, I simply cannot ignore how actions within in these institutions have also led to liberation.

I don’t know if this project will ever be done. I don’t know if it can be. I am constantly learning about new oppressive acts and liberation that need to be a part of this. No, I’m not trying to ultimately capture all of the post 1619 history on this land called the USA, but I’m trying to do justice to how science, particularly social sciences (since that is the area of science I am situated in), have helped to normalize the the oppressive acts that happen daily.

I would love to hear your thoughts on this project. I would love to hear necessary additions you have to it, or anything I should remove or edit. Please email me at brooke [[[== dot == ]] robertshaw [[==[at]==]] gmail dot com.

EVENT Color Key

The idea of this timeline is that:
1. Economic needs and wants (green) leads to imperialism 
2. Imperialism (grey) and the colonization of lands leads to 
3. The codification (yellow) of the oppression of others through laws, creation and acts of government, and judicial processes.
4. Which leads to social scientific (pink) practices that normalize this state of oppressive society.
5. Education (blue) then perpetuates all of this.
6. One thing that interrupts this process is organized activism (purple).

TEXT Color Key
1. Things that take place or exist over a period of time are on top, single date events are at the bottom. 
2. Those items with White text are seen by Brooke as being oppressive
3. Those items with Black or Teal text are seen by Brooke as being liberate
4. Those items with Green text are either neutral or are seen by Brooke to both oppress and liberate groups of people.

Text Colors

  • White: Actions that led to oppressing others, that were directly done to oppress others
  • Black: Actions that were done to liberate others
  • Teal: Actions that were done to liberate others
  • Green: Actions that neither liberated nor oppressed others