Michael F. McGovern

Doctoral Candidate
Department of African American Studies & Department of History

Michael F. McGovern (Mikey) is a Ph.D. candidate in Princeton's Program in the History of Science, studying science, race, and law in the modern United States. His dissertation, "Just in Numbers? Statistics and Civil Rights in the Cold War United States" explores how and why statistical evidence came to count in anti-discrimination law during the civil rights reforms of the Second Reconstruction. Focusing on the NAACP Legal Defense Fund’s campaigns against employment discrimination and capital punishment, it draws on legal and scientific sources to trace how the pursuit of racial justice became entangled with concerns about scientific objectivity and the implications of computer-based modeling. Bringing together historical epistemology and critical race theory, the dissertation asks whose definition of 'fairness' is at stake in present-day discussions about algorithmic discrimination and advocates for a power-conscious reading of data and quantification in modern social life. 

Mikey's work has been supported by the Princeton-Mellon Initiative in Architecture, Urbanism, & the Humanities, Princeton's School of Public and International Affairs, the Consortium for the History of Science, Technology, and Medicine, and the William Nelson Cromwell Foundation. Outside of his dissertation research, Mikey has been a Head Fellow at Princeton's Writing Center, taught U.S. History with Princeton Prison Teaching Initiative, and produced podcasts for New Books in Science, Technology, and Society.