CD-Rom: history of the census

4th May 2001 at 01:00

Counting Heads: an introduction to the Census, Poor Law data and vital registration
By David A Gatley and Paul S Ell
Statistics for Education pound;35 Single user: pound;35 plus VAT plus pound;2 postage Network site licence: pound;75 plus VAT plus pound;2 postage

This well-researched CD-Rom package is based on an extensive database of 19th-century censuses, in a format which is as easy to use in Year 7 as at A-level. With the idiot's guide thoughtfully provided, the data is easy to summon and explore, and on-screen icons allow you to convert tables into graphs or annotated maps.

The whole of the United Kingdom is covered, so you can check the state of literacy or employment, or find out how many people were on parish relief in your particular area at any point in the century.

The potential for social or local history work, whether as a whole-class exercise or an individual study, is enormous. Most refreshingly of all, the authors put the data into context, and give useful advice about how to gauge its accuracy.

Not everyone fills in the census accurately or honestly, many of the enumerators' books were lost or destroyed, and some 19th-century data - such as disability statistics - are so notoriously unreliable that the authors advise users to ignore them, at least for statistical purposes.

  • Our picture shows the registrar general studying public records with a schoolboy before the 1966 census
    • Sean Lang is head of history at Hills Road sixth form college, Cambridge

      A longer version of this review appears in this week's TES Friday magazine

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