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Notes on the history of the EURODATA Research Archive

by Peter Flora

In 1989, when the Mannheim Centre for European Social Research was created, the „European Data Archive“, as it then was called, became part of the new research institute. At that time it was able to look back to a „pre-history“ of one and a half decades in which its basic objectives were already defined. Therefore these few notes. The history began with the HIWED project (Historical Indicators of the West European Democracies) which had the main goal of producing a historical data handbook on Western Europe for the period 1815-1975. The project was started in 1973 by Wolfgang Zapf and myself in Mannheim and moved with me to Cologne in 1977. Officially, it ended in 1979, but it took some more years to complete and publish the two volumes of the historical data handbook (State, Economy, and Society in Western Europe 1815-1975. Frankfurt; vol. I, 1983; vol. II, 1987).

The Stiftung Volkswagenwerk, which had already supported the HIWED project, was generous enough to also finance a follow-up project: WEDA (West European Data Archive) from 1979 to 1981. With this project we wanted to prepare the ground for a permanent data archive with a statistical library and machine-readable data sets on Europe. To some extent, this was realised in 1982, again at the University of Mannheim. However, our attempts to institutionalise the archive within the frame of GESIS (Gesellschaft Sozialwissenschaftlicher Infrastruktureinrichtungen), the central infrastructure for the social sciences in Germany, were less successful. Probably for two reasons: We wanted to link the archive more closely to research than pure service institutions usually can do, and „research on Europe“ was at that time not yet well discovered in Germany. The creation of the Mannheim Centre thus offered ideal opportunities to pursue the original intentions on a much broader basis and with a long-term perspective. Under these conditions, we were also ready to follow the strong suggestion from established national data archives to change the name from „European Data Archive“ into „EURODATA Research Archive“.

Whereas names and organisational forms changed over the years, the basic objectives remained the same. They were shaped by the ideas of Stein Rokkan who contributed to the development of comparative research and its infrastructure more than anybody else. These ideas are simple: in order to understand our world of today, we have to study its long-term development; for this, studying the history of Europe and her nations is crucial; its analysis must take up questions and concepts of classical sociology, but at the same time utilise the modern possible ties and methods of data collection and data analysis; and this in turn requires a division of labour, international cooperation, and an infrastructure for comparative research.

EURODATA wants to make a modest contribution to this latter task. Although it normally cannot offer specific services to outside individuals or institutions, it will provide some general services to the scientific community interested in research on Europe:

  • its statistical library and documentation centre are open to the scientific public;
  • its machine-readable data files are being made available by the Zentralarchiv für Empirische Sozialforschung (ZA) in Cologne and the Norwegian Social Science Data Services (NSD) in Bergen;
  • it publishes, in cooperation with the IZ (Informationszentrum Sozialwissenschaften, Bonn), a series of guidebooks for the social sciences, „Europe in Comparison“, started in 1994 (see page 26);
  • it will soon begin to publish a series of historical data handbooks on Europe.
Last not least, it wants to facilitate communication on data-based comparative research on Europe by the EURODATA NEWSLETTER.

Peter Flora, Sociologist, is Scientific Director of the EURODATA Research Archive and Director of MZES Working Department I.

EURODATA Newsletter No.1, p.2