Prediction and Control: Global Population Projection in the Twentieth Century

Emily Merchant University of Michigan 2012-2013 Dissertation Research Fellow Prediction and Control: Global Population Projection in the Twentieth Century My dissertation traces the history of demography and international population politics from 1920 through 2010, focusing on population projections as the interface between science and politics. Dissertation research grants from the Philadelphia Area Center for History of Science (PACHS) and the American Philosophical society (APS) allowed me to spend four weeks each at two PACHS member libraries, the APS and Princeton University’s Seeley G. Mudd Manuscript Library. The collections I found in those archives will be critical to telling the story of how demography coalesced as a scientific discipline in the interwar period; to exploring the links that developed after World War II between demography and the U.S. government, the United Nations, and international philanthropy; and to analyzing the institutional and intellectual connections between demography, eugenics, and population genetics that endured across much of the twentieth century. In the early twentieth century, there was no recognized field of demography, but scientists in a number of disciplines were beginning to take an interest in questions of population size and composition. In 1920 biologist Raymond Pearl published a novel theory of population growth and method of population projection. Pearl’s theory and method were ultimately rejected, but they stimulated substantial further research, and later in the decade Pearl founded and served as president of the first international professional organization for demography, the International Union for the Scientific Study of Population Problems (IUSIPP). The APS library holds Raymond Pearl’s papers, which include material about the first decade of the IUSIPP, including controversies over how this international organization should be funded and over its leadership as political tensions mounted in Europe during the 1930s. His papers also include correspondence about his theory of population growth and projection method, and trace his changing attitude toward eugenics over the first half of the twentieth century. The papers of the American Eugenics Society (AES) and of its mid-century president and long-term secretary-treasurer Frederick Osborn, also held at APS, filled in more of the eugenics story, and reveal the involvement of prominent demographers in the AES throughout its existence. Though Osborn himself was not a scientist, he viewed science as critical to legitimating the social and political project of the AES, and saw in the nascent field of demography large potential for research that could further that eugenic project. He therefore became a champion of demography (“Demography’s Statesman,” as he is described in the text of a speech by demographer Frank Notestein found among Notestein’s papers at Princeton), and arranged for the establishment in 1936 of the Office of Population Research – the first graduate training center for demography in the United States – at Princeton University, with backing from the Milbank Memorial Fund and directed by the young Milbank demographer Frank Notestein. Princeton was therefore the next stop on the archive tour, and at the Seeley G. Mudd Manuscript Library, I was able to examine the papers of OPR’s first two directors, Frank Notestein and Ansley Coale, as well as those of MetLife statistician Alfred Lotka and Dixie Cup inventor Hugh Moore. Notestein’s papers illustrated the ways in which demography became useful to governments, intergovernmental agencies, and international philanthropies during and after the Second World War. During the war, OPR was tapped for demographic analyses by both the League of Nations and the U.S. Department of State. After the war, Notestein became the first director of the U.N. Population Division, and later a trustee and then president of the Population Council, a nongovernmental organization founded in 1952 by John D. Rockefeller III to channel money from U.S. philanthropists and foundations into slowing population growth worldwide. Notestein’s papers contain correspondence relating to all of this work, as well as the texts of his numerous public lectures, which indicate ways in which he both promoted and resisted popular understandings of population growth and its economic and environmental repercussions. When Notestein resigned from OPR to become president of the Population Council, he was replaced by his protégé Ansley Coale. Coale’s papers detail the considerable scientific developments that occurred within demography in the second half of the twentieth century, many of which facilitated global population projections under conditions of limited data quantity and poor data quality. Lotka’s papers continue the story of international scientific collaboration in demography through the IUSIPP, which dissolved during the war and was reconstituted afterwards in its current form as the International Union for the Scientific Study of Population. The Hugh Moore papers document a very different side of the postwar population story. As a businessman, Moore feared that rapid population growth in the global south could foster communist revolutions, cutting off the access of American businesses to international resources, markets, and investment opportunities. He galvanized the business community around this issue, founding the Population Crisis Committee (PCC), which lobbied the U.S. government and the U.N. to formulate policies aimed at limiting population growth in the global south. His papers therefore linked up with research I did before and after my PACHS fellowship in the U.N. archives and in the papers of Congressman Paul McCloskey at the Hoover Institution. The PCC took a very different approach to international population growth than did the Population Council, with the PCC advocating the direct intervention of the U.S. government in population control in the global south, where the Population Council instead promoted the indigenous development of family planning initiatives. Correspondence between the PCC and the Population Council – found both in Moore and Notestein’s papers at Princeton and in the Population Council records at the Rockefeller Archive Center – reveals the tensions between these two groups, which were ultimately working from the same anxieties and toward the same purpose. My research in the Philadelphia area this summer has been critical to the development of my understanding of the history of demography in the twentieth century, and its connections to the biogeopolitics of population both before and after World War II. This work would not have been possible without the generous support of the Philadelphia Area Center for History of Science and the American Philosophical Society, and was greatly facilitated by advice and assistance I received from archivists at APS and at Princeton’s Seeley G. Mudd Library.