Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin - Statistik

Selected Topics in History of Statistics (SE)



"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, in the seminar classical publications on statistics and mathematics 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, history of mathematics, bio-bibliographical informations of selected statisticians and mathematicians, text analyses

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 last four centuries. Third, we want to study some classical papers on mathematical models, and the application of mathematical models in economy will be discussed. Another aim of the seminar is the investigation of special areas in statistics from a comparative perspective, i. e. at different time periods, in various countries and within different frames. A visit of the Humboldt University Archive will be possible.


  • Bortkiewicz, L. von, Das Gesetz der kleinen Zahlen. Leipzig: Teubner, 1898
  • Dantzig, George B. Linear programming and extensions. Princeton: Princeton Univ., Press, 1963 (11th pr. Princeton 1998)
  • Daston, Lorraine. Classical Probability in the Enlightenment. Princeton: Princeton Univ. Press, 1988
  • David, H.A., Edwards, A.W.F. (2001), Annotated Readings in the History of Statistics, Springer
  • Gumbel, Emil Julius. Statistics of Extremes. New York: Columbia Univ. Press, 1958
  • Hald, A. (1998), A History of Mathematical Statistics from 1750 to 1930, Wiley
  • Hald, A. (2006), A History of Parametric Statistical Inference from Bernoulli to Fischer, 1713-1935. Springer
  • Hartley, H. O. Statistics as a Science and as a Profession. In: Journal of the Amer. Statistical Association, Vol. 75, No. 369 (March, 1980), pp. 1-7
  • Heyde, C. C., Seneta, E. (2001), Statisticians of the Centuries, Springer
  • Johnson, N.L., Johnson, E. (1997), Leading Personalities in Statistical Sciences: From the Seventeenth Century to the Present, Wiley
  • Kantorovich, L. V. The best use of economic resources. Oxford et al: Pergamon Press, 1965
  • Kantorovich, L. V. Essays in optimal planning. Oxford: Blackwell, 1977
  • Kolmogoroff (Kolmogorov), A. Grundbegriffe der Wahrscheinlichkeitsrechnung. Berlin: Julius Springer Verlag, 1933
  • Koopmans, Tjalling Ch. Three essays on the state of economic science. New York et al: McGraw-Hill, 1957 (reprint, NY 1991)
  • Leontief, Wassily. The structure of American economy, 1919-1939: an empirical application of equilibrium analysis. New York et al: Oxford Univ. Press, 1951 (2nd ed. 1953, again 1966, 1976)
  • Leontief, Wassily. Input-output economics. New York: Oxfrod Univ. Press, 1966 (1986)
  • Salsburg, David. The Lady tasting tea. How statistics revolutionized science in the 20th century. New York: A. W. H. Freeman & Henry Holt Company, 2002
  • 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. Limits of Mathematics in Statistics. In: The American Statistician, Vol. 8, No. 1 (Feb. 1954), pp. 6-10 + 18