From Data Scarcity to Data Abundance: The Role of Demographic Models in Historical Demography


Abstract: Historical demography is in the midst of a transition from a
data-poor to a data-rich environment.  Previous generations relied on
demographic models to squeeze as much information as possible from the
small amounts of data available.  Today we live in a new era of large
data sets.  Researchers are creating both regional and international
historical data sets of unprecedented size and depth. Reflecting on the
evolution of methods and data, I argue that demographic models are still
essential for pursuing historical demographic research.  As we
transition to new methods, demographic insight must inform our analyses
and enrich our conclusions.

George Alter is Research Professor in the Institute for Social Research
and Professor of History at the University of Michigan. His research
integrates theory and methods from demography, economics, and family
history with historical sources to understand demographic behaviors in
the past.  From 2007 to 2016 Alter was Director of the Inter-university
Consortium for Political and Social Research, the world’s largest
archive of social science data.  He has been active in international
efforts to promote research transparency, data sharing, and secure
access to confidential research data.  He is currently engaged in
projects to automate the capture of metadata from statistical analysis
software and to compare fertility transitions in contemporary and
historical populations.

Publications include:

Alter, George C., & Vardigan, Mary. (2015). Addressing Global Data
Sharing Challenges. Journal of Empirical Research on Human Research
Ethics, 10(3), 317-323. doi: 10.1177/1556264615591561

Arthur Lupia and George Alter. "Data Access and Research Transparency in
the Quantitative Tradition." PS: Political Science & Politics (2014).

Alter, George, Kees Mandemakers, and Myron P. Gutmann (2009). “Defining
and Distributing Longitudinal Historical Data in a General Way Through
an Intermediate Structure.” Historical Social Research, 34(3): 78-114.

Alter, George (2004). “Height, Frailty, and the Standard of Living:
Modeling the Effects of Diet and Disease on Declining Mortality and
Increasing Height.” Population Studies 58(3): 265-279. [PMID: 15513283]

Alter, George, and Ann Carmichael (1998). “Introduction: Reflections on
the Classification of Causes of Death.” Continuity and Change, 12(2):

Alter, George (1992). “Theories of Fertility Decline: A Non-specialist's
Guide to the Current Debate on European Fertility Decline.” In John
Gillis Louise Tilly and David Levine, eds., The European Experience of
Declining Fertility, 1850-1970, pp. 13-27. Cambridge, MA: Blackwell.


Date & time

Fri 24 Mar 2017, 3:00pm to 4:00pm


Jean Martin Room, Beryl Rawson Building ANU


George Alter


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