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Author of “Democracy’s Data” Speaks on Honors Program Flexibility

Growing up in a suburb of Rochester, New York, Dan Bouk never expected to attend Michigan State University.

This was until he received an invitation to the Alumni Distinguished Scholarship competition and ended up receiving a full ride.

He graduated in 2002 with a Bachelor of Science in computational mathematics, but explored opportunities in history with help from the Honors College and history professor David Bailey before graduating.

“The curricular flexibility of the Honors College was really important. That’s how I was able to get in a 300-level English class my first year when I discovered I wanted to finish my math degree, but also had curiosities about what it meant to do history seriously,” he said. “I only ever took two formal history classes, both with David Bailey, but I was later able to write an honors thesis in history thanks to him.”

During his time at the university, Bouk was also a founder of the OATS Literary Magazine, an undergraduate submissions-based magazine for poetry, stories, and fictional works. This magazine started in 1998 and ran until at least 2004.

He explained that while the four founders were studying various disciplines, they all had one common goal — finding a creative outlet to express themselves.

“Like most founders of literary magazines, we just wanted to publish our own things. The Honors College was crucial for that as they funded our initial publications,” he said.

Bouk went on to receive his doctorate in history from Princeton University. Now, he is a history professor at Colgate University in New York and a writer.

His newest book, “Democracy’s Data: The Hidden Stories in the U.S. Census and How to Read Them”, tells the story of how a large, diverse nation gets to know itself.

“In this book, I look at one of those censuses (from 1940) and I am able to discover the process by which big, messy lives can be made to fit in the neat lines and fixed categories that the government requires,” he said.

“It asks readers to think about what we lose when we are depicted as data and why a democratic system, nevertheless, needs every person to become a data point,” he continued.

The book is dedicated to the memory of former MSU history professor David Bailey, who first inspired Bouk to write a book like this.

“Democracy’s Data” has been reviewed by many publishers including The New York Times and can now be purchased on Amazon here.

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