Emily Klancher Merchant

Emily Merchant Portrait

Position Title
Assistant Professor of Science and Technology Studies; Member, Sociology Graduate Group



  • Ph.D., History, University of Michigan, 2015
  • M.A., History, University of Michigan, 2005
  • B.A., History, Pomona College, 2001


I am a historian of science and technology in the twentieth and twenty-first centuries, focusing on the quantitative human sciences and technologies of human measurement. My current project, Molecular Eugenics, combines archival research, oral history, and computational textual analysis to develop an intellectual, institutional, and material history of the genetic and genomic social sciences since the mid-twentieth century, and their contribution to eugenic projects in the postgenomic era. My first book, Building the Population Bomb (Oxford 2021), examines how human population growth became a subject of scientific expertise and an object of governmental and philanthropic intervention in the twentieth century. Past projects include studies of historical demography and agricultural history in the United States West, which use computational methods to explore migration between Mexico and the United States, the environmental consequences of agriculture on the Great Plains, and the changing living arrangements of older women. These projects have resulted in publications in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, International Migration Review, and Population Research and Policy Review, as well as the production of public-use datasets for historical demography and environmental history.

Research Focus

My current major project is a book on the history of the eugenic nexus between the social sciences, molecular genetics, and assisted reproductive technologies in the late twentieth century and early twenty-first century, under the working title Molecular Eugenics. It uses archival, digital, and oral methods to bring the history of eugenics up to the present, exploring how eugenic agendas have adapted to the sequencing of the human genome and to such reproductive innovations as gamete donation and in-vitro fertilization. It will advance the history of science by interrogating the collaboration between eugenics and the genetic and genomic social sciences, from the behavior genetics (genetic psychology) of the 1960s to today's sociogenomics — social scientific research that aims to correlate intelligence and socioeconomic outcomes with genomic markers. It will uncover the eugenic worldviews that have inspired these social scientific attempts to understand and control the intelligence of inheritance, and will identify their influence on genetic counseling and on recent efforts to use assisted reproductive technologies to breed smarter babies.

As part of this project, I am working with the UC Davis DataLab to topic model journals in eugenics and behavior genetics across the twentieth century, and to use word embeddings to compare the valences of genetic and eugenic terms in this corpus with the valences of the same terms in a much larger English-language corpus. I am working with UCD Professor Meaghan O'Keefe to edit a volume, tentatively titled DNA, Race, and Reproduction. It includes contributions from scholars working throughout UC Davis, and is being supported by the Davis Humanities Institute as a Transcollege Research Cluster. I also run the DNA in Society reading group.


Emily Klancher Merchant. Environmental Malthusianism and Demography. Social Studies of Science 52(4): 536-560.

Emily Klancher Merchant and Carrie S. Alexander. 2022. U.S. Demography in Transition. Historical Methods: A Journal of Quantitative and Interdisciplinary History.

Emily Klancher Merchant. 2021. Building the Population Bomb. New York: Oxford University Press.

Emily Klancher Merchant. 2021. American Demographers and Global Population Policy in the Postwar World. Modern American History 4(3): 239-261.

Emily Klancher Merchant. 2021. Assessing the Demographic Consequences of the Covid-19 Pandemic. Pp. 37-41 in Covid-19 and the Global Demographic Research Agenda, ed. Landis MacKellar and Rachel Friedman. New York: Population Council.

Projit Bihari Mukharji, Myrna Perez Sheldon, Elise K. Burton, Sebastián Gil-Riaño, Terence Keel, Emily Klancher Merchant, Wangui Muigai, Ahmed Ragab, and Suman Seth. 2020. A Roundtable Discussion on Collecting Demographics Data. Isis 111(2): 310-353.

Myron P. Gutmann and Emily Klancher Merchant. 2019. Historical Demography. Pp. 669-695 in Handbook of Population, Second Edition, ed. Dudley L. Poston, Jr. Cham, Switzerland: Springer Nature.

Myron P. Gutmann, Emily Klancher Merchant, and Evan Roberts. 2018. "Big Data" in Economic History. The Journal of Economic History 78(1): 268-299.

Emily Klancher Merchant. 2017. A Digital History of Anglophone Demography and Global Population Control, 1915-1984. Population and Development Review 43(1): 83-117.

Emily Klancher Merchant and J. David Hacker. 2016. Historical Demography in the United States, in A Global History of Historical Demography, ed. Antoinette Fauve-Chamoux, S. Sogner, and I. Bolovan. Bern: Peter Lang.


STS 205: Algorithmic Reading: Computational Text Analysis

STS 205: Texts, Maps, Networks, and Numbers: Computational Approaches in the Humanities and Interpretive Social Sciences

STS 150: Gender and Science

STS 122: Health and Medical Technologies

STS 112: Visualizing Society With Data

FRS 004: Data Feminism (first-year seminar)


Merle Curti Intellectual History Book Award (for Building the Population Bomb), Organization of American Historians, 2022

Otis Dudley Duncan Book Award (for Building the Population Bomb), American Sociological Association, 2022

Membership, School of Social Science, Institute for Advanced Study, 2021

Hellman Fellowship, UC Davis, 2020

Faculty Development Award, UC Davis, 2020

Aggie Hero, UC Davis, 2020

James Madison Prize, Society for History in the Federal Government, 2017

American Philosophical Society and British Academy Franklin Research Grant, 2016

Doris G. Quinn Foundation Dissertation Finishing Fellowship, 2015

University of Michigan Rackham Predoctoral Fellowship, 2015

National Science Foundation Doctoral Dissertation Research Improvement Grant, 2012

U.S. Department of Education Jacob Javits Fellowship, 2003