The Search for Data: Finding and Using Published Sources
Note that finding primary sources is easiest for the United States. You can find a fair number of primary sources for Britain and somewhat fewer for France. Other countries present even greater difficulties. Keep this in mind in thinking about topics. Students who end up focusing on the 1970s onwards because they cannot find earlier data tend not to do well on the paper.
Machine Readable Data
Hardly any non-U.S. data are available. Most of the U.S. data date from the end of the nineteenth century onwards.
Most publicly available data are stored with ICPSR. To browse their collection, Inter-University Consortium for Political and Social Research.
Available ICPSR data:
- Published census material.
- U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics consumer expenditure surveys, as well as state Bureau of Labor Statistics surveys (end of nineteenth century, beginning of twentieth).
- U.S. census of manufacturing (nineteenth century).
- Voting data.
- Slave sales, prices, and appraisals.
- Military muster rolls.
- Wills, probate, and tax records (including English).
- Payroll records of selected companies (e.g. Ford).
- Arrests, strikes, and violent activity in France and Britain.
- Aggregate statistics for Europe.
Data archives similar to ICPSR exist in other countries as well. See the Council of European Social Science Data Archives. The History Data Service, part of the Archives at the University of Essex has a particularly rich collection of historical data.
- Census micro data (1850, 1860, 1870, 1880, 1900-1920, 1940-2000) are available from Minnesota Population Center, University of Minnesota. The entire 1880 U.S. and 1881 Canadian censuses are also available from North Atlantic Population Project.
- Economic History Services, directly downloadable or an author contact - collection includes Europe and ranges from time series data to various micro datasets such as U.S. surveys of workers.
- NBER Reporter, U.S. micro data and world macroeconomic data.
- University of Chicago, Union Armyveterans and assorted public health datasets.
- The Department of Demography at the University of California, Berkeley, aggregate vital statistics data for various countries and Prussian (1875-1914) and Croatian (1700-1900) micro data on baptisms, marriages, and burials.
- Joseph Ferrie's census linked U.S. data and 1851 British data, Department of Economics Joseph P. Ferrie.
- Jeremy Atack's U.S. census of manufacturing data, Economics Faculty Jeremy Atack.
- Gregory Clark's early UK data on charities, parishes, and wage, rents, and other time-series, Institute of Governmental Affairs UCDAVIS.
- Adriana Lleras-Muney's (Princeton University) compulsory U.S. child attendance and labor laws and state characteristics.
Other data can be obtained by directly contacting individuals.
This list will mainly be useful if you are working on the nineteenth century or later.
Historical newspaper databases include Proquest's New York Times Historical Archives and Historical Wall Street Journal and are accessible from the libraries Web page.
Note that MIT keeps older material, including published census volumes, in its Retrospective Collection (RSC). Primary sources are also available at Harvard's Widener, Littauer (federal and state government reports), Lamont (census volumes), Guttman (education volumes), and Baker (business history) libraries. Most Littauer volumes will not show up on the online catalogue. The Boston Public Library contains Massachusetts state reports.
Three volumes that you should be familiar with are:
U.S. Bureau of the Census. Historical Statistics of the United States, Colonial Times to 1970. Washington, DC: U.S. Dept. of Commerce, Bureau of the Census, U.S. Government Printing Office, 1975.
Other sources you might find useful are:
Historical Published U.S. Census Information: Historical Census Browser.
Digitized U.S. Statistical Yearbooks: Statistical Abstracts.
Digitized U.S. Census Volumes (Incomplete): Census of Population and Housing.
BLS CPI Series: Bureau of Labor Statistics.
Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System. Banking and Monetary Statistics. Washington, DC: Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System, 1943.
Kuznets, S. S. 1966. Capital in the American Economy: Its Formation and Financing. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1961.
American Philosophical Society. Population Redistribution and Economic Growth, United States, 1870-1950: Methodological Considerations and Reference Tables. Philadelphia, PA: The Society, 1957.
Levy-Leboyer, Maurice et Bourguinon, Franois. 1985. L'économie française au XIXe siècle. Analyse macro-économique. Paris: Economica, 1985. (Also available in English.)
Urquhart, M. C., and K. A. H. Buckley. The Historical Statistics of Canada. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1965.
Collver, Clinton. Industrial Securities. New York, NY: Moody's Investors Service, 1919.
Conference on Research in Income and Wealth. Trends in the American Economy in the Nineteenth Century. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1960.
Office du Travail. Ministere du Commèrce, de l'Industrie des Postes et des Telegraphes. Salaires et duree du travail dans l'industrie française. Paris: Imprimerie nationale, 1893-97. (4 volumes.)
Censuses of population and statistical yearbooks.
Assorted reports from government agencies.
Price series that can be obtained from private sources such as railroad freight rates and Montgomery Ward's catalogues.