• Census,  Source Spotlight

    Stories from an early 18th-century census: Introduction

    In 1724, 77 years before the first national census in Britain, vicar Henry Dawnay took a census of the village Puddletown in Dorset where he lived. He wrote his observations down in ‘An account of the inhabitants of Piddletown Parish 1724 Dorsetshire’. In the first of a series of posts on this source, I talk about what this exceptional document could tell us about life in eighteenth-century England. Puddletown, Dorset Puddletown lies about five miles north-east of Dorchester. You can see the boundary of the parish in the map below. Thanks to Dawnay’s census, we know that in 1724, it had a population of around 600. At that time it…

  • 1851 Census

    Big data & some (not so) little problems

    Historians now have at their fingertips large datasets that allow us to ask questions that previously wouldn’t have been possible or practical to pursue. We can text mine the 6 billion pages curated in the digital library of the HathiTrust. We can glimpse the lives of some 3.5 million individuals who lived in seventeenth- and eighteenth-century London. Such large datasets are exciting and allow us to ask interesting and novel questions. But what about the things that we miss when dealing with such large amounts of digitised historical data? What compromises are we making in the hope that trends will be discernible from the noise? Or, that errors will ‘average’…