For general readers who want to dig further into how the decennial Census has changed over the years, here is a short list of selected books that explore its past. Included are general histories of census-taking and demographic findings, memoirs of Census Bureau directors, detailed analyses of changes in race and ethnicity categories and several books about the politically charged debate over census undercounts.
The reading list was provided by Margo J. Anderson, professor of history and urban studies at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee. Her own book, “The American Census: A Social History” (Yale University Press, 1988) is a thorough and well-written account of the census from colonial days through the 20th century.
In suggesting the list, Anderson wrote, “The materials listed below provide a window into a much larger literature on the history and politics of census taking, American demographic history and the political uses of the census in the United States. All of them have extensive footnotes and bibliography for the reader searching for more information. Follow their leads! The census is one of those invisible American institutions (like the Post Office) that spans our nation’s history and thus rewards the intrepid explorer with great insights about American life.”
In addition to Anderson’s reading list, the Census Bureau website includes a history section that includes overviews of questions asked through the decades, links to legislation pertaining to the Census Bureau and other material.
Books about demographic history: “The First Measured Century: An Illustrated Guide to Trends in America, 1900-2000,” by Theodore Caplow, Louis Hicks, and Ben J. Wattenberg (AEI Press, 2000; the book also was the basis for a PBS TV program) and “A Population History of the United States,” by Herbert S. Klein (Cambridge University Press, 2004).
Books about the politics and history of population counting in the United States: “Demography in Early America: Beginnings of the Statistical Mind, 1600-1800,” by James H. Cassedy (Harvard University Press, 1969); “A Calculating People: The Spread of Numeracy in Early America,” by Patricia Cline Cohen (University of Chicago Press, 1983; Routledge, 1999); and “The Politics of Numbers,” edited by William Alonso and Paul Starr (Russell Sage Foundation, 1986).
Memoirs and histories by former Census Bureau directors, beginning with the most recent: “The Hard Count: The Political and Social Challenges of Census Mobilization,” by D. Sunshine Hillygus, Norman H. Nie, Kenneth Prewitt and Heili Pals (Russell Sage Foundation, 2006; Prewitt also wrote “Politics and Science in Census Taking,” published in 2003 by the Russell Sage Foundation and Population Reference Bureau); “Moving Power and Money,” by Barbara Everitt Bryant and William Dunn (New Strategist Publications, 1995); “Census 1980: Policymaking Amid Turbulence,” by Ian I. Mitroff, Richard O. Mason and Vincent P. Barabba (Lexington Books, 1983); and “The Bureau of the Census,” by A. Ross Eckler (Praeger, 1972).
Race and Ethnicity in the census: “Changing Race: Latinos, the Census and the History of Ethnicity,” by Clara Rodriguez (New York University Press, 2000); “Shades of Citizenship: Race and the Census in Modern Politics,” by Melissa Nobles (Stanford University Press, 2000); and “Mark One or More: Civil Rights in Multiracial America,” by Kim M. Williams (University of Michigan Press, 2006).
Undercount controversies: “Looking for the Last Percent: The Controversy Over Census Undercounts,” by Harvey M. Choldin (Rutgers University Press, 1994); “Sampling and the Census,” by Kenneth Darga (AEI Press, 1999); “Counting on the Census?” by Peter Skerry (Brookings, 2000); and “Who Counts? The Politics of Census Taking in Contemporary America,” by Anderson and Stephen E. Fienberg, (Russell Sage Foundation, 2001).