In the results of this Rorschach test, the anthropologist saw evidence of a culture eroded by modernity. Sixty years later, these documents also testify to the aspirations and fate of the social-scientific project for which they were generated. Deep within this forgotten Ozymandian card file sits the Menominee man’s reaction to Rorschach card VI: “It is like a dead planet. It seems to tell the story of a people once great who have lost . . . like something happened. All that’s left is the symbol.”
In “Database of Dreams: The Lost Quest to Catalog Humanity,” Rebecca Lemov delves into the ambitious efforts of mid-20th-century social scientists to build a “capacious and reliable science of the varieties of the human being” by generating an archive of human experience through interviews and tests and by storing the information on the high-tech media of the day.