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Searching quantitative data for historians: 2. Via data archives

Data archives = data repository

Data repositories are open archives, on a local/national level or by discipline.

There are many kinds of repositories where datasets are archived. Being aware of this context, you can choose a fitting strategy.

1. Multidisciplinary repositories which contain only few historical datasets. First search for ways to filter by research area (humanities, social sciences) or discipline (history). Maybe you can filter by period covered by the data or by topic (urban development, inequality).

2. Specialized repositories in history or the humanities, contain more, sometimes exclusively historical data. There it will be important to use as specific possible search terms you have identified during your search for secondary sources: specific keywords, names of authors... 


Data repository: digital archive for (scholarly) research results. It can contain articles, but also datasets.
Data repositories are increasingly open access. 
Registry of data repositories: describes hundreds of data repositories world wide. 

How to search for data archives?

Known data archive (direct search)
You can use the list above as a starting point. When you search within a specific data archive, you will find datasets directly. Most of the datasets are accessible, some are possibly accessible with some restrictions (registration, affiliation to a university, IP-adress from a specific country). 

Data archive unknown (indirect search)
  • search for relevant data archive in a registry of data repositories like Re3Data (see box below 'Registry of data repositories') 
  • search many archives at the same time in a data browser (see box below 'Searching many repositories at once')
  • search for discipline-specific data archives in Google: combine your discipline (urban history, history, Humanities) with "data archive" OR "data repository"
  • search for multidisciplinary data archives in Google with "data archive" OR "data repository" (i.e. Harvard Dataverse)

Registry of data repositories

RE3Data and OpenDoar allow to search within a large set of repositories by their description. They do not search the content at a data-level. 
Each description includes details about: Open Access, Persistent Identifier, Terms of use.
RE3Data is a database of repositories and platforms that contain data. As you are searching for data repositories and not for datasets, you are doing an indirect search and use broad search terms. For example, by searching 'economic AND social AND history', 30 repositories containing data on this topic appeared as a result on April 22nd 2022. 
Based on the information provided about the repositories you can do a direct search with more specific keywords to see if the selected repository contains useful data.
In RE3data has the option to browse or to filter results by subject ('History').
A way to narrow down results is to first search with broad keywords (i.e. economic AND social yielded 138 results on April 22nd 2022) and then filter these results by subject ('History'). This combination of keywords and filter by subject on 'History' yielded 14 results.
In RE3Data it is also possible to filter on country. This filter applies to the country of origin of the repository, which does not mean it only contains data on the that specific country. The IISH Dataverse for example, is based in the Netherlands, but contains data about a great number of countries.

Searching many repositories at once

  • Google Dataset Search searches the web directly for datasets. Each dataset indicates the name of the repository of origin. Sometimes a registration or a request is needed to access it. 
  • Mendeley Data searches through the content of a large set of repositories. It gives access to the datasets.
  • DataCite searches in descriptions of research datasets with a DOI.