Finding Historical Data III

Pestilence Lesson 1656

On Monday I blogged about how to find data using digital libraries, featuring a few of my favorite HPE sites. Particularly if your trip to the archives has been cancelled because of Covid-19, online libraries can be a great alternative option. As the nights get colder and we are stuck indoors, digitizing and/or coding some scanned volumes can also be a productive use of time!

Today I’m going to take the liberty of writing a second post on digital libraries — mainly because there are so many neat ones (many that I stole from the Broadstreet editorial team). These are in no particular order, we just hope you find them useful!

Further, if your Norwegian, Spanish,  Russian,  or English is a little rusty, not to worry — the translate button on Google Chrome has you covered (circled in blue, below). 

Finding the translate button on Google Chrome
Finding the translate button on Google Chrome

Russia’s Presidential Library

The Russian Presidential Library has a number of collections of digitized historical documents online. The website is easy to search, and there is even a Top 100 documents link for those wanting a quick fix (these include the Russian Census from 1897, Lists of Russian prisoners of war delivered from Germany, and a Letter from Napoleon I to Alexander I about the fire in Moscow).

In fact, it has even made available an entire collection devoted to the history of epidemics in Russia — plague, cholera, smallpox and tuberculosis. There are cultural documents (a lesson on pestilence from 1656, seen in the featured image) as well as official documents relating to the spread and control by the state of infectious disease.

Also, as fellow scholar Vasily Rusanov (@roussanoff) pointed out on Twitter and in the comments section below, you can search and then download the digitized versions of these documents using, and don’t do any data entry on the censuses — they can be found at!

Russian Census from 1897
Russian Census from 1897

National Library of Norway

The National Library of Norway another national library that is digitizing its entire collection, with an easy to use search function (and English options already built in). My coauthors and I used this resource to look at historical candidate coverage in newspapers for a recent paper, and I can’t emphasize enough how smooth this digital platform is (and the resolution quality on the scans is excellent). 

Don’t believe me? Feel free to peruse some advertising in a newspaper from 1890….

Example of Norwegian Newspaper

Mexico’s General Archive of the Nation

Here’s another forward thinking national library that started making much of its collection accessible online, as a direct result of the pandemic. The initiative is called “archives from home” (#archivosdesdecasa), and make sure to check out the guide to the digitized holdings before you begin!

US Congress

Mea culpa, I realized in my last post I neglected to mention the Library of Congress, which of course has an extensive digital library. Some of the more famous collections include the U.S. Congressional Documents and Debates 1774-1875; primary source materials and memoirs from the founding of significant American institutions (eg the Alexander Hamilton Papers or the American Federation of Labor Records); maps and charts of North America and the West Indies as they were discovered or all maps relating to the American Civil war. 

And don’t forget its collection of digitized newspapers!

Other potential rabbit holes (you’ve been warned) include:

Historical Resources on the US Congress

Broadstreet editor Jeff Jenkins had a great recent post that included a genius number of online resources for the study of Congress in an endnote — I’ve pulled them verbatim and repasted below. But to understand them fully, read his post!

“[3] For example, the Poole-Rosenthal data are available at; congressional biographical information, back to the First Federal Congress, are provided electronically, via a search engine, by the Library of Congress (; congressional debates and proceedings through the 1870s ( and historical newspapers between 1860 and 1922 are provided by the Library of Congress ( Other congressional datasets and research materials require a university affiliation.  Such restricted-access resources, which include a lengthier series of congressional election data, all congressional proceedings and debate, and a range of historical newspapers and periodicals, are provided by the ICPSR (, HeinOnline (, and ProQuest (, respectively.”


  • Alexandra Cirone

    I am an Assistant Professor and Himan Brown Faculty Fellow in the Government department at Cornell University. I am also a Faculty Fellow of the new Institute of Politics and Global Affairs in NYC. My research interests center on historical political economy, democratization and party systems in new democracies, multi-level governance, public policy, and European politics. I combine quantitative methods, historical data, and natural and/or quasi-experimental research designs with extensive archival research.

One thought on “Finding Historical Data III

  1. Russia has a centralized system for searching/downloading the digitized versions of documents stored in virtually _every_ library in the country, including the library mentioned in the post

    For example, here is the entry corresponding to the title of this post:

    In addition, if it’s the 1897 or the 1926 census that you are after, check out repository of digitized census statistics:

Leave a Reply