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Searching quantitative data for historians: 3. Via statistical databases

Introductory notes

Direct search (in known database)
Most selected search engines below are freely accessible on the internet, except for the OECD database (you will have to log in with your solisID). 'Statistics' is also category you can select in the list of search engines of the University Library.

Indirect search (for more databases)
Feel free to search for more statistics with Google. Keep in mind a few things when formulating keywords:
- Statistics are not always explicitly presented in the form of a database (keywords: statistics OR "statistical data" combined with a relevant keyword)
- 'Statistics' is often used for statistical data (keywords: statistics OR statistical combined with a relevant keyword)
- Search official statistics of a country (keywords: "United States" OR American; or use a URL-extension as a keyword, i.e. .cn for China)  
- Use the language(s) of the country you are researching: (données) statistiques (French), (statistische) Daten / Statistiken (German),  (dati) statistiche (Italian), datos (estadisticos) / estadisticas (Spanish) etc. 

Statistical databases are not aiming at historians and often contain little historical data. Search for an Archive section or look for filter options by year to see how far back data reach.


(i) Any organised collection of data may be considered a database. In this sense the word is synonymous with dataset.
(ii) A software system for processing and managing data, including features to extend or update, transform and query the data.
Note: In the context of this LibGuide, the word database is exclusively used in the second definition. 
Note: database sometimes is spelled as two words:data base. Its synonym databank can be spelled 'data bank'. 

Government data

The work of government involves collecting huge amounts of data, much of which is not confidential (economic data, demographic data, spending data, crime data, transport data, etc). The value of much of this data can be greatly enhanced by releasing it as open data, freeing it for re-use by business, research, civil society, data journalists, etc.

Data is open if it can be freely accessed, used, modified and shared by anyone for any purpose - subject only, at most, to requirements to provide attribution and/or share-alike. Specifically, open data [...] requires that the data be A. Legally open: that is, available under an open (data) license that permits anyone freely to access, reuse and redistribute B. Technically open: that is, that the data be available for no more than the cost of reproduction and in machine-readable and bulk form.

Source: Open Data handbook

Statistical databases: local data

Here two examples of statistical databases from the Netherlands: the historical data is provided in another website. The official website for national statistics, StatLine, has a very limited functionality "archive". For the country you do research about, check the official online statistics. It is variable how far back in time data is available. Try the statistics databases in the box below for variables concerning your country
CBS Historische Collectie (Dutch and overseas statistical archive for the 19th and 20th century)

"Bevolking en oppervlakte der gemeenten van Nederland 1920 (70 p.) p. 6
Tabellen- Bevolking naar geslacht en oppervlakte van de verschillende gemeenten.
De provinciën, de groepen van gemeenten en het Rijk volgens de volkstelling van
31 december 1925" 
StatLine (CBS)

Below: population by region and cities back to 1960  



Eurostat is the European Union’s statistical information service.
The Eurostat website is available in English, German and French. The Eurostat website provides direct and free of charge online access to all its statistical databases and associated electronic publications. The Eurostat database is updated twice a day and covers: the European Union, the EU Member States, the euro area, Candidate countries, EFTA countries.

Eurostat is as up-to-date as possible and not meant for historical research. Depending on the subject, the temporal scope varies a lot between the 1960's and the 2010's.Eurostats gives access to different forms of data visualisation (see hereunder). 

The Eurostat homepage consists of 5 tabs: News, Data, Publications, About Eurostat, Help

  • Tab 'News'- section Data - offers direct links to the most popular data. By clicking on 'Complete database' one can directly access the full Eurostat database.
  • Tab 'Data': all Eurostat's data by theme or from A-Z
  • Help-functionality

World Development Indicators (WDI)

World Development Indicators (WDI) is the primary World Bank collection of development indicators, compiled from officially recognized international sources. It presents the most current and accurate global development data available, and includes national, regional and global estimates. It contains over 800 time-series indicators for 209 countries and 18 country groups, covering 1960 to last year. Included are sets of country tables, covering specialized topics such as social indicators, economic indicators, education, and population projection.

DataBank is an analysis and visualisation tool that contains collections of time series data on a variety of topics. You can create your own queries; generate tables, charts, and maps; and easily save, embed, and share them. Depending on the subject, it covers the period 1960 to last year.

OECD I-library

OECD iLibrary is OECD’s online library for books, papers and statistics and the gateway to OECD’s analysis and data. However, many content areas are freely available to any site visitor, such as the PapersStatistics and more.