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Emily Klancher Merchant


  • Ph.D., History, University of Michigan, 2015
  • M.A., History, University of Michigan, 2005
  • B.A., History, Pomona College, 2001


I am a historian of science and technology in the twentieth and twenty-first centuries, focusing on the quantitative human sciences and technologies of human measurement. My current book project, Building the Population Bomb (publication expected 2021), examines how human population became a subject of scientific expertise and how demography shaped population dynamics during a period of unprecedented growth. This project combines archival research, oral history, and computational textual analysis to develop an intellectual, institutional, and material history of the science and politics of global population in the twentieth century. Past projects include studies of the historical demography and environmental history of the United States West, which use computational methods to explore Mexican migration to the United States, the environmental consequences of agriculture on the Great Plains, and the changing living arrangements of older women. These projects have resulted in publications in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, International Migration Review, and Population Research and Policy Review, as well as the production of public-use datasets for historical demography and environmental history.

Research Focus

My current major project is a book on the history of demography and global population politics, tentatively titled Building the Population Bomb. It asks how human population became a subject of scientific expertise and how that expertise shaped population during a century of unprecedented growth. Research for this project has taken me into the archives of prominent demographers, the institutions in which they worked, and the patrons who funded their research. I have also completed several oral history interviews with demographers who are still alive. As this project wraps up, I have begun to turn to the next major project, Molecular Eugenics, a history of social science genomics focusing on the eugenic nexus of the social sciences, molecular genetics, and assisted reproductive technologies.

I have recently completed two large collaborative research projects. The first examined the history of Mexican immigration to the United States from About 1850 to 1950. Together with Brian Gratton (Arizona State University), I produced new estimates of the number of Mexican immigrants and their U.S.-born children who emigrated (both forcibly and voluntarily) to Mexico during the 1930s. on the history of Mexican migration to the United States from about 1850 to 1950 and one on the environmental and demographic history of the U.S. Great Plains since the Homestead Act (1862). These projects heavily utilized quantitative methods.

Selected Publications

Projit Bihari Mukharji, Myrna Perez Sheldon, Elise K. Burton, Sebastián Gil-Riaño, Terence Keel, Emily Merchant, Wangui Muigai, Ahmed Ragab, and Suman Seth. 2020. A Roundtable Discussion on Collecting Demographics Data. Isis 111(2): 310-353.

Myron P. Gutmann and Emily Klancher Merchant. 2019. Historical Demography. Pp. 669-695 in Handbook of Population, Second Edition, ed. Dudley L. Poston, Jr. Cham, Switzerland: Springer Nature.

Myron P. Gutmann, Emily Klancher Merchant, and Evan Roberts. 2018. "Big Data" in Economic History. The Journal of Economic History 78(1): 268-299.

Emily Klancher Merchant. 2017. A Digital History of Anglophone Demography and Global Population Control, 1915-1984. Population and Development Review 43(1): 83-117.

Emily Klancher Merchant and J. David Hacker. 2016. Historical Demography in the United States, in A Global History of Historical Demography, ed. Antoinette Fauve-Chamoux, S. Sogner, and I. Bolovan. Bern: Peter Lang.

Brian Gratton and Emily Klancher Merchant. 2016. La Raza: Mexicans in the United States Census. Journal of Policy History.

Brian Gratton and Emily Klancher Merchant. 2015. An Immigrant’s Tale: The Mexican-American Southwest, 1850-1950. Social Science History 39(4): 521-550.

Brian Gratton and Emily Klancher Merchant. 2013. Immigration, Repatriation, Deportation: The Mexican-Origin Population in the United States, 1920-1950. International Migration Review 47(4): 944-975.

Emily R. Merchant, Brian Gratton, and Myron P. Gutmann. 2012. A Sudden Transition: Household Changes for Middle-Aged U.S. Women in the Twentieth Century. Population Research and Policy Review 31(5): 703-726.

George C. Alter, Myron P. Gutmann, Susan H. Leonard, and Emily R. Merchant, eds. 2012. Longitudinal Analysis of Historical-Demographic Data. Special Issue of Journal of Interdisciplinary History 42(4).

Myron P. Gutmann, Glenn D. Deane, Emily R. Merchant, and Kenneth M. Sylvester, eds. 2011. Navigating Time and Space in Population Studies. New York: Springer.


STS 205: Algorithmic Reading: Computational Text Analysis

STS 205: Texts, Maps, Networks, and Numbers: Computational Approaches in the Humanities and Interpretive Social Sciences

STS 150: Gender and Science

STS 122: Health and Medical Technologies

STS 112: Visualizing Society With Data

FRS 004: Data Feminism (first-year seminar)


Hellman Fellowship, UC Davis, 2020

Faculty Development Award, UC Davis, 2020

Aggie Hero, UC Davis, 2020

James Madison Prize, Society for History in the Federal Government, 2017

American Philosophical Society and British Academy Franklin Research Grant, 2016

Doris G. Quinn Foundation Dissertation Finishing Fellowship, 2015

University of Michigan Rackham Predoctoral Fellowship, 2015

National Science Foundation Doctoral Dissertation Research Improvement Grant, 2012

U.S. Department of Education Jacob Javits Fellowship, 2003