A (Very) Brief History of the U.S. Census

Census Enumerator in Hawaii, 1960

Written by Benjamin Clanton, Government Publications

As you may know, 2020 is a Census year! It is a distinct possibility that many of you have already filled out your Census forms, either through mail or online. In fact, 2020 will be the first time the Census Bureau will ask most people to respond online. But why exactly do we answer these questions sent to us by the federal government? Having an accurate Census is extremely important: it determines representation within Congress for individual states, affects the makeup of the Electoral College, and determines federal funding for countless programs and organizations. The history of the U.S. Census is actually quite complicated and reflects the story of our nation’s progress. The Census has even balanced on the cutting edge of data collection and tabulation for most of its existence, something that we experience every day in all parts of life.

Beginnings

The simple counting of people that live within the United States, along with the gathering of more detailed information on the population and the country itself, has been a mandate of the federal government since its inception. Article I, Section 2, Clause 3 of the U.S. Constitution outlined how representation in Congress would be determined and called for the ‘enumeration’ of the nation’s people every 10 years. Thus, in 1790, the first Census was held, asking only six questions, which have grown in number and variety during the two centuries since. It was handled by the State Department under the guidance of then Secretary of State Thomas Jefferson. The actual gathering of data was overseen by U.S. Marshals, who hired 650 assistants to cover their respective districts; Marshals continued with this duty until 1879, when the responsibility was handed over to professional enumerators due to concerns over accuracy.

Changes Over Time

The Census has certainly never been a static part of American governance. In 1849, the Department of the Interior took responsibility for holding the 1850 Census, which would be the first to count the population of California as part of the United States. Further changes came over the next 75 years; in 1902, the U.S. Census Bureau became a permanent agency within the Department of Commerce and Labor, ultimately remaining as part of Commerce when it became an independent department in 1913.

Perhaps the most interesting aspect of the Census has been how the collection of data progressed over the years. As mentioned earlier, U.S. assistant Marshals went door-to-door asking questions, often in rugged rural areas. The tabulation of this information was a painstaking operation that often took years. In the late nineteenth century, Herman Hollerith, a former Census employee, created an electric tabulation machine that used punch cards to quickly process data. In the mid-twentieth century, the Census Bureau received UNIVAC I, the first nonmilitary computer, to further help tabulate data covering the exploding American population. As the Census begins to move online, new ways of gathering and storing information are certainly on the horizon for 2030 and beyond.

Census Fun Facts!

  • New York City has always been listed as the most populous city in the nation. In 1790, the first Census, its population was just over 33,000. In 2010, it was at almost 8.2 million
  • The most populous State at the time of the first Census was Virginia, with just over 747 thousand people. The winner in 2010: California, which did not gain statehood until 1850, tallying in at just over 37 million.
  • Worried about your data becoming public? By law, Census records aren’t released to the public by the National Archives until 72 years after Census Day, which was on April 1. If you are counting, that will be in the distant future of 2092 for the 2020 edition.

Celebrating Black History Month!

Benjamin Clanton and Meghan Campbell, Government Publications

There is no doubting that African Americans have played an integral role in the armed forces of the United States, from our nation’s inception up to the present day. They have served this country and put themselves in harm’s way to help preserve the ideals of freedom and liberty that have often been denied to them over the past two and a half centuries. Whether it be during the Revolutionary War to found the nation, the American Civil War to save the Union and end slavery, World War II to defeat fascism, or in the modern struggles to find equality and recognition for their contributions, African Americans have given everything possible, including the highest sacrifice, in the American armed forces. For example, recent decades have seen the rise of Colin Powell, the son of Jamaican immigrants, to the greatest heights of the United States military, which propelled him to becoming Secretary of State during the George W. Bush administration. We here in Government Publications would like to use this opportunity during Black History Month to highlight some of the resources in our collection that honor and examine the sterling history of African American military service.

Bonus link!

Frederick Douglass is truly one of the great historical figures of the United States. After escaping slavery, Douglass became one of the greatest champions of abolition and social justice in 19th century America. His autobiography is still considered one of the greatest works of American literature ever produced, invaluable in its condemnation of slavery as an institution. Here is a link exploring the Frederick Douglass National Historic Site in Washington, D.C., preserved by the National Park Service. Please enjoy!

 

 

Dissertation Writers Retreat

Are you a late-stage dissertation writer? Attend this free, week-long retreat focusing on both strategies for completing and how to plan for life after the dissertation.

Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday will include workshops and presentations; free lunch and childcare will be provided. CWC consultants will be available to assist with any writing questions, and librarians will be available for research assistance. Register at bit.ly/dwr2020 by December 14 to reserve free childcare provided by the Lipman Early Learning and Research Center, catered lunch, coffee, tea, and breakfast snacks, and study room. Monday and Friday, enjoy quiet space devoted to writing.

Questions? Contact Michael Harris at mwhrris2@memphis.edu.

Below is a tentative retreat schedule:

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Lambuth Library News: November 2019

Written by Lisa Reilly, Lambuth Campus Librarian: 

What’s New 

Just in time for the upcoming holiday breaks, we have introduced a new Leisure Reading collection to the Lambuth Library. The collection includes best-selling, hot-off-the-presses fiction and non-fiction hardcover books ready for you to check-out!

Some popular titles include: 

All these and more can be checked out at the Lambuth Library or through Interlibrary Loan! 

Upcoming Lambuth Library Events: 

December 2-4 Come and Go During Library Hours: Maker Monthly Borrowed Bows – Take a few minutes to refresh between study sessions by making a holiday bow out of a colorful recycled magazine page. Materials will be available for you to use anytime during library hours! 

December 9 from 10:30AM-12:30PM: Therapy Dogs Visit – Exams got you down? Several therapy dogs will be available at the Lambuth Library ready to offer you comfort, relieve your stress, and bring you joy! 

Resource Highlight of the Month 

The Lambuth Library Study Rooms have been popular this semester. There are four study rooms to accommodate groups of 2-6 students. However, larger groups may request the rooms by contacting the campus librarian. Students, reserve a study room by visiting the Lambuth Library website and selecting the “Study Rooms” link!  

Digital Exhibit: Enslaved People in the Southeast

Read the news announcement, and visit the digital exhibit.

From the digital exhibit’s website:

The Association of Southeastern Research Libraries (ASERL) announces a new digital exhibit created and curated by the ASERL Special Collections Interest Group. This collaborative online exhibit recognizes the 400th anniversary of the arrival of the first Africans sold into bondage in the English Colonies. This date, in 1619, is regarded as the beginning of the Trans-Atlantic slave trade in North America.

The exhibit documents the history of the enslaved in the Southeast and includes material related to the many varied aspects of enslavement, including paper documents and records as well as images. These provide valuable information about the entire infrastructure and system of enslavement as well as the individual and group experiences of enslaved people. Items submitted include photos, letters, bills of sale, emancipation documents, insurance and taxation documents, and maps indicating segregation zones. The exhibit will also explore the legacies of slavery by including documents and images related to convict lease labor and Jim Crow in the 20th century.

Designed to illustrate the social complexity as well as the economic and human impact of the American ‘peculiar institution,’ in all its ugliness, these materials can guide the researchers in accurately depicting the institution of slavery in the Southeastern United States. The goal is to learn from our past and make our resources available to students, researchers, other institutions, and the public.”

The University of Memphis’ University Libraries Special Collections selected and provided materials contributing to this digital exhibit.

 

NEDtalks 11/13 & 11/14

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NEDtalks is a bi-annual research forum hosted by the Ned McWherter Library where UofM professors and students share recent research in engaging & entertaining 15-minute presentations in the TEDtalks style. One event of the year is dedicated to UofM professors. The second event, NEDxStudents, is dedicated to UofM students. The Libraries partners with Helen Hardin Honors College for NEDxStudents, and a panel of judges awards the best student presentation of each day a monetary prize.

This year’s faculty NEDtalks will take place Wednesday, November 13, 2019, 3:30 to 5 p.m., & Thursday, November 14, 2019, 2:45 to 4:00 p.m. in the 2nd Floor Common Area in McWherter Library. This is a public event; all are welcome!

Wednesday, November 13, 2019

3:30 – Refreshments & Introduction

3:45 – Dr. Cassandra Nuñez, Department of Biological Sciences, Management-induced social and physiological changes may interact to shape the gut microbiome in feral horses (Equus caballus)

4:00 – Joel Roberts, University Libraries, The Irving Berlin of Memphis: The Early Years of Bob Miller

4:15 – Dr. Cody T. Havard, Kemmons Wilson School of Hospitality & Resort Management, Sports Rivalry Man: Superheroes and Comics to Teach Group Behavior

4:30 – Dr. Deranda Lester, Department of Psychology, Oxytocin – More than a Love Hormone

4:45 – Dr. Jeremy Orosz, School of Music, Stylistic and Linguistic Borrowings Between Hip Hop and Country Music

Thursday, November 14, 2019

2:45 – Refreshments & Introduction

3:00 – Dr. William Dean Clement, Department of English, Drawing Out Leviathan: Biblical Monsters in English Poetry

3:15 – Dr. Brad Dixon, Department of History, “made Horse [of us] to carrie”: Native American Porters in the Early South

3:30 – Dr. Ruoxu Wang, Department of Journalism and Strategic Media, User experience (UX) matters: What are the most desired skills in the UX designer and UX researcher job ads?

3:45 – Dr. Donal Harris, Department of English, Seeing and Reading Civil Rights: Literatures of the Freedom Struggle

Visit our website for more information and for past NEDtalks events.

Lambuth Library News: October 2019

Written by Lisa Reilly, Lambuth Campus Librarian: 

What’s New 

shelves with yearbooks and coffee house papersThe Lambuth Campus has a rich history. Alumni of Lambuth College/University and their family members often stop by the library to reminisce over Lambuth historical items. If you visit the library today, you will find comfortable seating in a new designated “Lambuth History” area where you may browse the Lantern annuals dating back to 1927, the Lambuth College/University Bulletin catalogs dating back to 1924, and other historical items. 

Upcoming Lambuth Library Events: 

October 29 from 6:00-9:00: Horror Night Double Feature –
We’ll be popping popcorn and screening two classic “horror” movies- The Little Shop of Horrors and Nosferatu. If you aren’t into horror- no worries! The Little Shop of Horrors is a comedy about a giant Venus fly trap! 

October 30 from 3:30-4:30:  Untangle Your Day Workshop –
Don’t let your daily tasks get the best of you. See some tech tools demonstrated that can help you manage your time and reduce stress. 

November 4 – November 8 (anytime during library hours): Maker Monthly Color Me Calm – Colored pencils and ready-to-design bookmarks will be set out. Stop by, relax, and get creative! 

Resource Highlight of the Month 

Interested in finding more horror movies to view? The UofM University Libraries offers the film streaming service, Kanopy, for free to University of Memphis faculty, staff, and students. Currently there are 363 movies available for viewing in its Horror & Thriller category. Simply visit memphis.kanopy.com and log in with your UofM email and password. Learn more about this awesome resource by reading this blog post. 

October Events @ McWherter Library

National Voter Registration Day at The Ned!

One of the greatest but most underutilized privilege we have as Americans is our right to vote. The ability to go to a local polling station and place a vote for a candidate you believe in is infinitely important. Voting is something you can do to contribute to your community, city, and country. Having your own say in who you want to represent you is invaluable, and you should take advantage of it! If you want to be registered to vote but are unsure of where to start, don’t worry.

The Ned has you covered.

If you’re on campus on September 24th, come on over to the McWherter Library. From 9am until 6pm there will be a registration table with prizes, library staff volunteers, and representatives from the Shelby County Election Commission available to answer all your questions. Unable to wander over to the library? No worries! From 1pm until 3pm we will also have a table in the University Center ready to help you register too. To make it even easier for you to become a registered voter, we will have iPads and laptops fired up and available to help you! It’s as easy as that.

If all of this sounds wonderful to you, we’re ready for and look forward to seeing you on the 24th!

Have questions? Here are some voting related resources for you: