At Oxford American, Rumpus columnist Nick Rombes breaks into the official US census for 1860, chronicling his reaction to the text and the traces left behind by past readers.

“Curled delicately, its oil having spread out in a bloom across the pages, the hair is part of a human body in a book about numbered bodies, enslaved and free, the insane, the married and unmarried, the ones with terrible secrets, the somnambulists, the literate and the ones for whom printed words exist only as abstractions…”

Lisa Dusenbery is the former managing editor of The Rumpus. More from this author →