Historical Data: Where to Find Them, How to Use Them
The use of historical data has become a standard tool in economics, serving three main purposes: to examine the influence of the past on current economic outcomes; to use unique natural experiments to test modern economic theories; and to use modern economic theories to refine our understanding of important historical events. In this chapter, we provide a comprehensive analysis of the types of historical data most commonly used in economic research and discuss a variety of issues that they raise, such as the constant change in national and administrative borders; the reshuffling of ethnic groups due to migration, colonialism, natural disasters, and many other forces. We also point out which methodological advances allow economists to overcome or minimize these problems.
Prepared for the Handbook of Historical Economics, edited by Alberto Bisin and Giovanni Federico. We thank seminar participants at the Handbook of Historical Economics Conference at New York University. All remaining errors are ours. The views expressed herein are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Bureau of Economic Research.