Aaron Hanlon, Assistant Professor of English (Colby)

Nov. 1 at 7:00 in Lovejoy 100

Hooke Flea 1665

Hooke Flea 1665

For many of us, “seeing is believing”; we’re strongly influenced by an empirical understanding of what constitutes proof (“show me the proof,” as opposed to “explain to me the proof,” “tell me the proof,” etc.). Developments in how we understand data and data science, however, complicate our reliance on empiricism by introducing new standards of statistical significance and methodology, as well as new epistemological problems. This talk will trace a long history of the concept of data in the Anglo-American tradition, starting with the introduction of the word “data” into the English language in the 17th century. We will track the development of the concept of data through the British Enlightenment before addressing the ways that recent cultural developments regarding data are changing how we see, read, and interpret knowledge today. Throughout, this talk will explore the ways that literature and philosophy have contributed to debates about what constitutes data, and how reliable is data as a form of knowledge.

Aaron R. Hanlon is Assistant Professor of English at Colby College, specializing in 18th century literatures and cultures and the British Enlightenment. His research focuses on the role of literature in Enlightenment political philosophy, particularly theories of exceptionalism; and on the role of literature in shaping Enlightenment notions of how we know what we know.

Student Discussions

  • What is Data? December 20, 2016 PokemonHunterTo be honest, data has always been one of the words that confuses me, especially when writing papers. Its meaning can change depending on the context of the sentence, and ...
  • Data and Decision Making December 20, 2016 Matthew HoffmanDespite my apprehension about going to any talk surrounding the topic of the discussion of what I percieve to be numbers in raw form, I really enjoyed the conversation of ...
  • “What does this data mean?” “It’s right there sir, see for yourself.” December 19, 2016 swgray20Professor Aaron Hanlon delivered a talk on the introduction of the word “Data” into the English language in the 17th century. From here, he explored the ways in which this ...
  • Not Modern Data December 19, 2016 rdettm20First “coined” in 1646 by Henry Hammond, data first made its appearance, however, at the time, the definition for the word was ambiguous.  Throughout history, the word data and the ...
  • Data is Not Fact or Truth December 19, 2016 Jaritza AbreuAre there ways to fact check data? Aaron R. Hanlon , an English Professor at Colby in his talk on the Revolutions in Data, Big, and Little, has brought up ...
  • Post-Truth/Big Data December 19, 2016 mwyndhamNow that Oxford Dictionary has positioned the word of 2016 as “post-truth,” perhaps it is the perfect time to study the origins of data. As Professor Aaron Hanlon said, after ...
  • Data’s Power December 19, 2016 Reggie HuangIn this lecture, Professor Hanlon discussed an interesting topic about data revolution. He argues that for a long time in human history, the use of data as a visual proof ...
  • The Malleability in the Social Media Age December 18, 2016 William ReynoldsListening to Professor Hanlon, Assistant English Professor here at Colby,  speak about the dangers of misrepresenting data and the need to prioritize collecting valid data, and representing it as such, ...
  • Data and Context December 3, 2016 Amanda SagastiThe term “data” is not unique to our generation. We were raised in a society dominated by technology and are privileged enough to store and remember most, if not every, ...
  • Revolutions Among Revolutions November 30, 2016 mahurl20Data is essential to the acquisition of new knowledge and the accurate transfer of this knowledge to wider audiences. In his lecture, Hanlon defined data as “a thing given.” This ...