Finding answers for today in yesterday
By Joey Sabljic
Economics and history professor Kris Inwood is working with a shared network of high-performance supercomputers that connect institutions across
For example, tracing poverty’s roots in Canada back to specific patterns of population mobility or examining how religious affiliation affected employment opportunities would give researchers an opportunity to study and compare past societies with current ones by tracking these trends through each decade.
Researchers could also study census data together with First World War medical exams to see what demographic groups were most affected by disease, where certain illnesses became less common over time or how childhood nutrition influenced adult height and health.
“We’re able to compare today’s population with one from more than 100 years ago because the census data give us a snapshot of that point in time,” says Inwood. “Then we can follow these large populations through time and analyze what happens.”
More than 80 per cent of Canadians from these census records are what he calls “invisible people.” They didn’t appear in local newspapers, didn’t keep a diary and weren’t studied in history textbooks. Yet he’s confident that the key to understanding changing societal, economic and medical trends also lies in accounting for some of these overlooked people.
Besides basic data such as age, sex and location, the census records contain much more personal information. Each person’s name is included, as well as details about occupation, place of birth, marital status, religion and literacy.
Even physical and mental handicaps such as blindness, deafness and developmental disorders were documented. Inwood sees great potential for many new research projects based on this detailed information.
Currently, he and his research team are also putting together a digitized library based on the 1871 Scottish census. Their plan is to eventually acquire more census data from Statistics Canada and the registrar general of
“We’re going to be able to give you information about people you knew nothing about,” he says. “To fully understand a society, you need to understand everybody.”
Inwood and his research colleagues have formed partnerships with the universities of
The 1891 Canadian Census Project is supported by the Canada Foundation for Innovation and the Ontario Ministry of Research and Innovation.
The project also receives funding from the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council, U of G’s