Transforming the understanding of a 60 year period of British history

Article dated: 14 January 2009

A University of Essex led census project is set to create an unparalleled historical research resource that will transform our understanding of a 60 year period of British history. The £1.06m project, a collaboration between the History Department at the university and the UK Data Archive (UKDA), will bring together more than 200 million individual records from the censuses for Great Britain for the period 1851-1911. historic photos

The so-called Integrated Census Microdata (I-CeM) project is funded by the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC). It represents the largest collection of its kind in the world and will be unique in that it represents the entire British population, not just a sample. The ESRC grant comes just a few weeks after the university's History research was ranked second in the UK in the Research Assessment Exercise (RAE).

Professor K. Schürer is leading the project with Dr E. Higgs as co-partner. The project has the backing of a number of non-academic partners including, The National Archives, and the British Library. Professor Schürer said: "These records contain vast amounts of information on every house, household and individual in the country and are the basis of much of our knowledge of changing social and economic structures over this period. Bringing all the existing computerised versions of these censuses together will completely transform our ability to research this period."

I-CeM will bring together computerised versions of the censuses that have been created by public and commercial bodies at a cost over many years of more than 11 million pounds. Professor Schürer added: "What we are doing is creating a fantastic historical resource for use by UK and international researchers, teachers and students and others for educational purposes, at a fraction of the money that has been spent by others in this field to date. This will put British social scientific research at the forefront of international efforts in this field."

Once the project is complete, I-CeM will enable researchers in a wide variety of fields from economics, human geography, and sociology to social and economic history and related areas such as health studies and epidemiology to carry out studies of the highest quality. It is also expected to open up new fields of research and it is hoped that ultimately, if further funding can be found, may lead to the creation of a Victorian Panel Survey.