Hugh Pickens writes writes “In spring of 1940, the Census Bureau sent out more than 120,000 fact-gatherers, known as ‘enumerators,’ to survey the nation’s 33 million homes and 7 million farms. Now as the 72 years of confidentiality expires, the National Archives website buckled under the load as the 1940 census records were released and 1.9 million users hit the archives servers in the first four hours the data went public and at one point, the Archives said, its computers were receiving 100,000 requests per second. Data miners will have the opportunity to pick and chip through more than 3.8 million digital images of census schedules, maps and other sociological minutiae. What will we learn from this mother lode? The pivotal year 1940 ‘marked the beginnings of a shift from a depressed peacetime to a prosperous wartime,’ says David E. Kyvig, author of Daily Life in the United States, 1920-1939. The vast data dump, Kyvig says, will allow historians ‘to look closely at particular communities and how people within them were doing in terms of employment, income and material comforts.’ The 1940 census was the first Census that looked deeper into the details of much of American life. ‘As we see how the country evolved over the subsequent 20 years, where we have aggregate census data … we ought to be able to see more clearly how government spending bettered everyday life, confirmed Keynesian economic theory and revealed that, before the war, the New Deal did too little, rather than too much, to stimulate the U.S. economy.””
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