Figures of Misery: The Berlin Housing Survey (1901-1920) as an Epistemic Project

Research output: Contribution to journalResearch articleContributedpeer-review



From 1901 until 1920, Albert Kohn, director of the Berlin insurance organization Allgemeine Ortskrankenkasse, conducted a systematic housing survey of defective apartments. The work included statistics, reports, and photographs. I situate the project within the context of social surveys in the years around 1900. In the larger history of housing surveys, Kohn’s project was one of the first that amalgamated diverse media and data visualizations. The original publication exhibits a crucial connection between statistics, reports, and apartment photographs. I will show that both reports and photographs epistemically hinged on numerical data gained from a questionnaire. The assemblage of shocking figures in statistics, reports, and photographs was intended to make visible an epistemic object: the misery of the lower classes. Hence, Kohn’s depictions of urban misery did not depend on a specific form of representation, but rather on the consistency between descriptive registers.


Original languageEnglish
JournalJournal of Urban History
Publication statusPublished - 9 Jun 2022
Externally publishedYes

External IDs

Scopus 85131732876
Mendeley 6b29cba0-fb2d-3cdf-a87f-7ee54504ab3b


Research priority areas of TU Dresden

DFG Classification of Subject Areas according to Review Boards

Sustainable Development Goals


  • Figures, housing, Housing conditions, numbers, data visualisation, narrative, Berlin, Hygiene, misery, surveys, data visualization, photography

Library keywords