Nancy Hall Davenport

Students in class at George Washington University Medical School, Washington, D.C. April 1958. Photo by Marion S. Trikosko for U.S. News & World Report.

Medical Storytelling

What lets doctors see patients so briefly and yet know so much about them? What are residents doing all day in the hospital, since relatively little of their time is face-to-face with the patient? In this project, I argue that physicians in the hospital make sense of patients and their diseases by placing them in narratives that capture where this patient has come from, where she is headed, and what the physician can do for her before discharge. » more

Anthropometric device designed for use by anthropologists to measure the heads of living subjects. Invented in 1913 by Major A.J.N. Tremearne with later modifications suggested by A. Keith and Karl Pearson.


In the years around World War II, researchers interested in population problems – problems that two decades before would have been called “eugenics” – forged a narrow path for the study of population. They navigated between disgust for Nazi Rassenhygiene on one side and the disapprobation of the Catholic Church on the other to lay claim to the scientific study of population. » more


Pain clinics are outpatient medical centers for patients suffering from chronic and intractable pain. They provide a promising site for understanding how physicians understand and treat the most subjective of medical problems. » more


Nancy Hall Davenport

I am a Postdoctoral Fellow at the Paul F. Lazarsfeld Center for the Social Sciences, an interdisciplinary research center housed at Columbia University. I received my B.A. from Cornell and my Ph.D. from Columbia. My research focuses on questions of expert practice, medicine, and retrospective accounts of action. I study how people, particularly experts, learn to make decisions quickly and based on very little concrete information. I am interested in how physicians evaluate a piece of information—how they end up believing, disbelieving, or ignoring it. My research also shows how medical decision-making and clinical work are inherently moral activity. I am completing a book manuscript, based on my dissertation, that investigates how young family practice physicians develop medical expertise in the hospital.

My new project is an ethnographic investigation of the rationalization, measurement, and treatment of pain. The project extends my interest in patient believability, and in patients that physicians find “difficult” and situations they find distasteful. Reporting pain is inextricably tied to clinical evaluations of believability and mental state. The study will be an ethnographic investigation of pain at three sites: with primary care physicians, with specialists providing care in pain clinics, and with researchers studying pain.

Before I began my graduate studies, I spent two years teaching English and History to middle school students in Oakland, California, as a Teach for America corps member. I then spent three years training teachers in service-learning instruction, including urban environmentalism and school gardening. I am a certified Master Gardener.


Department of Sociology Teaching Fellow
2006 Evaluation of Evidence

Undergraduate methods lecture

Josh Whitford


Sociology Proseminar

Graduate professional seminar


2005 Sociology & the Public

Advanced undergraduate seminar

Josh Whitford

2004 Sociology of Education

Undergraduate lecture

Vanessa Smith Morest

2003 Social Change

Undergraduate theory lecture

Gil Eyal

Other Teaching Experience
1997-1999 History & English

Teach for America

Oakland Unified School District

Teaching Interests

Curriculum Vitæ

2009 Ph.D. (with distinction)

Department of Sociology

Columbia University

2004/2006 M.A./M.Phil.

Department of Sociology

Columbia University


B.A. (summa cum laude)

Phi Beta Kappa

Department of Philosophy

Cornell University

Current Position
2012-2013 Postdoctoral Fellow

Paul F. Lazarsfeld Center
for the Social Sciences

Columbia University


Nancy Hall Davenport

Paul F. Lazarsfeld Center for the Social Sciences
Columbia University in the City of New York

606 West 122nd Street

Knox Hall, Mail Code 9649

New York, New York 10027

United States


Tel +1 (424) 226 2629

Fax +1 (212) 854 2963