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Albers, Thilo and Kappner, Kalle (29. January 2022): Perks and Pitfalls of City Directories as a Micro-Geographic Data Source. Collaborative Research Center Transregio 190, Discussion Paper No. 315 [PDF, 1MB]

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Historical city directories are rich sources of micro-geographic data. They provide information on the location of households and firms and their occupations and industries, respectively. We develop a generic algorithmic work flow that converts scans of them into geo- and status-referenced household-level data sets. Applying the work flow to our case study, the Berlin 1880 directory, adds idiosyncratic challenges that should make automation less attractive. Yet, employing an administrative benchmark data set on household counts, incomes, and income distributions across more than 200 census tracts, we show that semi-automatic referencing yields results very similar to those from labour-intensive manual referencing. Finally, we discuss potential applications in economic history and beyond.

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