History by Numbers. E-Learning Modules for MA Courses in Economic History

The digitalization of archival catalogues and historical sources is opening access to hitherto hidden treasures, including troves of numerical information on socio-economic structures. This project aims to create two introductory modules focusing on handling such historical data for UNIGE and UZH MA students in economic history. The first module will provide a brief overview of the history of statistics in Switzerland as well as introduce students to the Historical Statistics of Switzerland Online (HSSO). The second module will teach students how to extract and prepare analog data sources for digital use.

The project will further an ongoing collaboration between the only two Swiss universities offering a MA degree in economic history (<www.histecon.uzh.ch/de.html>and <www.unige.ch/sciences-societe/IHEPB/etudes/master/>). Both universities have already worked together to relaunch (in March 2018) the HSSO (www.hsso.ch), a dataset offering unique perspectives on socio-economic, as well as political and cultural, development.

The first e-learning module will offer an overview of (proto-)statistical collections by public and private institutions since 1800 as well as introduce students to the HSSO dataset. This contextual overview will include practical examples drawn from recently digitized archival sources – for example the Zurich School Survey of 1771/2 (Staatsarchiv Zürich) or the WWII Refugees List of Names (Archives d’Etat de Genève). In addition, students will understand which historical numerical data already do exist in digital form, where such data can be found, how such data was pre-processed, as well as the various challenges linked to the preservation of historical data.

Focusing on data preparation, the second module will familiarize students with the preparation of data for statistical analysis. We are already cooperating with the editors of the UZH-based transcription-training tool «Ad fontes» (www.adfontes.uzh.ch/1000.php) to implement data table transcriptions. We plan to implement training sessions dealing with the digitalization of printed and archival sources and enabling statistical evaluations such as panel data and time-series analysis. Students will develop an understanding of the overall data set structure and will be made aware of potential gaps, data corruption, and other imprecisions in historical data. Finally, students will produce a dataset in a generic standard, including accurate source and data descriptions as well as precise reproducible citations. Student produced datasets could then be included in the HSSO dataset and thus contribute to its development.

These two introductory modules will be part of a larger e-learning course. Additional modules will include sessions on descriptive statistics, linear regression, and visualization of quantitative historical information. Some of this latter content will be based on a revision/re-launch of the Economic and Social History Online (ESO) e-learning tool developed at the UZH a decade ago and discontinued in 2014.

This e-learning course will be module-based, ensuring digital flexibility and sustainability. In order to facilitate cooperation between UNIGE and UZH, as well as offer potential access to a wider audience within (and beyond) Switzerland, we will realize this project in English.

Participants: