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The what and why of statistics
Statistics can help provide concrete examples of a larger trend, give the basis for an important chart or graph, or make theoretical arguments tangible.
There are two main branches of statistics:
- Descriptive--concerns the numerical or quantitative data alone, and can help draw conclusions about a sample, rather than a population.
- Inferential--concerns the conclusions drawn about an entire population which are infered through the results of a random sampling of a population
Be aware of bias in statistics! Numbers can be manipulated, and charts and graphs can be arranged to give a certain impression. Always double-check your facts!
A list of places to begin research for historical statistics. Consider investigating your state's archives to supplement your research with more specific information.
- United States Historical Census Data Browser
The data presented here describe the people and the economy of the US for each state and county from 1790 to 1970. The data displayed here were initially created by ICPSR under study number 0003, "Historical Demographic, Economic and Social Data: The United States, 1790-1970."
- Penn World Tables
Historical data, from 1959-, for 30+ categories of economic statistics for 152 countries and 29 subjects. Topics include GDP, exchange rate information, capital stock per worker, construction, an import/export information.
- FRED (Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis)
FRED contains historical U.S. economic and financial data, including daily U.S. interest rates, monetary and business indicators, exchange rates, and regional economic data for Arkansas, Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky, Mississippi, Missouri and Tennessee.
A multidisciplinary database of journal articles dating back to the 1800s, all available in online in PDF full-texts. For best results, do an advanced search for a keyword + statistics. This is a good option for primary source material in a number of fields.