Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin - Statistik

Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin | Wirtschaftswissen­schaftliche Fakultät | Statistik | Teaching | Summer term 2014 | What is statistics? - From a historical perspective (SE)

What is statistics? - From a historical perspective (SE)

Course Description




"What is Mathematics?" was the title of the famous book written by the mathematician Richard Courant (1888-1972) and the statistician Herbert E. Robbins (1915-2001). It was first published in 1941. In a similar way, our seminar asks "What is statistics?", and we will look back at statistics from a historical perspective by investigating the history of the field. Furthermore, the development of statistical packages and computers, which became inseparable tools, will be discussed. Active participation would clearly be desirable; the seminar is for students who are interested in history and in mathematics and statistics respectively.



Course Learning Objectives

History of statistics, bibliographical background of selected statisticians, history of statistical packages and computers

Course Structure

First, we will sketch the history of statistics in general, from the late 17th and early 18th centuries until the present day. Second, we will investigate some specialised areas of mathematical statistics and economic statistics during the 4 centuries. Third, we want to investigate some of the technical problems related with statistics and the development and introduction of modern computers from the 1970s onwards. This part we will do thanks to the computer museum of C.A.S.E. (Spandauer Strasse 1) where we can study the history of computer programs for statisticians. Another aim of the seminar is the participation in the project of a collective biography of the most important representatives of statistics - the bio-bibliographical database which is a source book on these key figures in the field. A visit of the Humboldt University Archive will be possible.


  • Bortkiewicz, L. von (1898) Das Gesetz der kleinen Zahlen. Leipzig: Teubner
  • Daston, L. (1988) Classical Probability in the Enlightenment. Princeton: Princeton Univ. Press
  • David, H.A., Edwards, A.W.F. (2001), Annotated Readings in the History of Statistics, Springer
  • Gauss, C.F. (1887). Abhandlungen zur Methode der kleinsten Quadrate. Reprint: Würzburg: Physica-Verlag, 1964
  • Gigerenzer, Gerd et al. (1999) Das Reich des Zufalls. Wissen zwischen Wahrscheinlichkeiten, Häufigkeiten und Unschärfen. Heidelberg, Berlin: Spektrum Akademischer Verlag
  • Goldstine, H.H. (1977) A History of Numerical Analysis from the 16th through the 19th Century. New York et al: Springer Verlag,
  • Gumbel, E.J. (1958) Statistics of Extremes. New York: Columbia Univ. Press
  • Hald, A. (1998), A History of Mathematical Statistics from 1750 to 1930, Wiley
  • Hald, A. (2003), A History of Probability and Statistics and Their Applications Before 1750, Wiley
  • Hald, A. (2006), A History of Parametric Statistical Inference from Bernoulli to Fischer, 1713-1935. Springer
  • Johnson, N.L., Johnson, E. (1997), Leading Personalities in Statistical Sciences: From the Seventeenth Century to the Present, Wiley
  • Kolmogoroff (Kolmogorov), A. (1933) Grundbegriffe der Wahrscheinlichkeitsrechnung. Berlin: Julius Springer Verlag
  • Porter, T.M. (2004) Karl Pearson: The scientific life in a statistical age. Princeton: Princeton Univ. Press
  • Salsburg, D. (2002) The Lady tasting tea. How statistics revolutionized science in the 20th century. New York: A. W. H. Freeman & Henry Holt Company
  • Stigler, S.M. (1990) The History of Statistics: The Measurement of Uncertainty Before 1900, Harvard University Press
  • Stigler, S.M. (2002) Statistics on the Table: The History of Statistical Concepts and Methods, Harvard University Press
  • Woytinsky, W.S. (1954) Limits of Mathematics in Statistics. In: The American Statistician, Vol. 8, No. 1, pp. 6-10 + 18