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Counting BodiesPopulation in Colonial American Writing$
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Molly Farrell

Print publication date: 2016

Print ISBN-13: 9780190277314

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: September 2016

DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780190277314.001.0001

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The Death and Life of Colonial Mortality Bills

The Death and Life of Colonial Mortality Bills

(p.156) Chapter 4 The Death and Life of Colonial Mortality Bills
Counting Bodies

Molly Farrell

Oxford University Press

Chapter Four investigates the forms of human accounting in colonial newspapers across North American port cities. Applying the methods of literary criticism to materials that were once the province of historians and demographers, it argues that colonial death statistics paved the way toward public acceptance of the state practice of counting life. Borrowing from postcolonial theory, Achille Mbmebe’s concept of “necropolitics” helps explain the role death plays in these early colonial cities to negotiate race and community. The tables, called bills of mortality, present an ordered and segregated vision of colonial social life that neutralizes the threat of mixture between the different kinds of people living and dying in Philadelphia, Charleston, New York, or Boston. Benjamin Franklin focused his early efforts as a printer on burial data, and Malthus’s later use of Franklin’s calculations of population shows the centrality of colonial print culture to the development of population science.

Keywords:   Bills of Mortality, Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Malthus, Achille Mbembe, Necropolitics, Philadelphia, Boston, Charleston, New York, Population

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