How Historical Data Become Public

1950 Census Bureau employees photographing records from the 1900 census for storage on microfilm. Photo: U.S. Census Bureau

An enormous amount of information about the characteristics and activities of ordinary people is just waiting to make its debut for researchers to analyze — two billion people and their households, spanning over 100 countries, from 1703 to the present day. All these data will be available for computer analysis by the general public, for free, by 2018.

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The Case of the Missing Prostitutes in Late 19th Century London

Image: Prostitutes offer their services in the Haymarket, engraving by an unnamed artist. From London Labour and the London Poor: Volume Four by Henry Mayhew.
Image: Prostitutes offer their services in the Haymarket, engraving by an unnamed artist. From London Labour and the London Poor: Volume Four by Henry Mayhew.

Where are all the prostitutes in the census records of London 1881? In her book, Prostitution and Victorian Society: Women Class and the State , Judith Walkowitz says that a 19th century city like London (where prostitution was legal) had one prostitute per 36 inhabitants. Based on the 1881 London population records, that amounts to about 24,000 prostitutes. The coded occupations in 1881 London data, however, show no signs of prostitutes anywhere.

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