The history of what we today call “data” extends to the ancient world, yet our contemporary terminology of “data” is modern. This article examines the history and significance of the term “data.” It argues that a historiography of data that is self-conscious about the historicity of its own categories can illuminate the specific materiality of data, distinct from the things in the world it claims to represent. This essay is part of a special issue entitled Histories of Data and the Database edited by Soraya de Chadarevian and Theodore M. Porter.

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