by Thomas Thurston
Using Online U.S. Census Data
The U.S. Constitution requires that a national census be taken every ten years; U.S. census takers have done so since 1790. Historians have found census data to be an extremely important resource for identifying population shifts and trends. The online United States Historical Census Data Browser allows the user to select specific census categories and allows users to find data at the county level, when that data is available.
In this online activity, students will locate statistical information related to SLAVERY AND THE MAKING OF AMERICA using census data from the United States Historical Census Data Browser.
Grade Level: Grades 9-12
Time Allotment: Two to three class periods
Subject Matter: United States History, Social Studies, Geography
Students will be able to:
- Draw inferences from statistical information.
- Connect episodes in the history of slavery with larger demographic trends.
From the National Standards for History for grades 5-12, available online at
Historical Thinking. Standard 2 - The student thinks chronologically. Therefore, the student is able to utilize visual, mathematical, and quantitative data presented in charts, tables, pie and bar graphs, flow charts, Venn diagrams, and other graphic organizers to clarify, illustrate, or elaborate upon information presented in the historical narrative.
Historical Thinking. Standard 4 - The student conducts historical research. Therefore, the student is able to obtain historical data from a variety of sources, including: library and museum collections, historic sites, historical photos, journals, diaries, eyewitness accounts, newspapers, and the like; documentary films, oral testimony from living witnesses, censuses, tax records, city directories, statistical compilations, and economic indicators.
United States History. Standard 2D - The student understands the rapid growth of "the peculiar institution" after 1800 and the varied experiences of African Americans under slavery.
About the Author:
Thomas Thurston is the Director of Education for the Gilder Lehrman Center for the Study of Slavery, Resistance, and Abolition at Yale University. Prior to his current position he worked at the Institute for Learning Technologies at Teachers College, Columbia University, where he was project director for the award-winning Web site, the New Deal Network. He has served as an educational consultant for several previous PBS historical documentaries, including THE RISE AND FALL OF JIM CROW and BERGA: SOLDIERS OF ANOTHER WAR.
Prep for Teachers
Prior to teaching this lesson, bookmark all of the Web sites used in the lesson on each computer in your classroom, or upload all links to an online bookmarking utility such as www.portaportal.com. Preview all of the Web sites listed below and video clips used in the lesson to make certain that they are appropriate for your students. Print out and copy the student organizers and document sheet.
Visit the United States Historical Census Data Browser at: United States Historical Census Data Browser
Using the Historical Census Browser is fairly straightforward. Categories and variables vary from year to year. Students must be made aware that multiple selections can be made from variables listed in the data categories. (Information on the Web site's homepage explains how to select more than one category, depending upon the type of browser you are using.) Once variables have been selected, click the "Browse [Census Year] Data" at the bottom of the page. The Web site will then display the data by state. To obtain census information for counties within a given state, select the state and click the "View Counties" button at the bottom of the page.
After each Census Quest question a note is provided in the lesson plan explaining the associated segment from the SLAVERY AND THE MAKING OF AMERICA documentary. We recommend that you complete the Census Quest questions your students will be working with, so that you know the answers to these questions and you will be able to anticipate difficulties your students might have using this database.
For the class:
- SLAVERY AND THE MAKING OF AMERICA.
For each student:
Copies of the following student organizer:
United States Historical Census Data Browser
Hosted by the Geospatial and Statistical Data Center at the Library of the University of Virginia, the United States Historical Census Data Browser contains selected detailed county- and state-level data for the United States for the years 1790 to 1970.
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