September 16th 2016 meeting report

We had a great workshop on September 16th. The program and all the presentations are available here: You can see below a quick report on the meeting,

“Classifying international trade before 1945”

Location: Sciences Po (Paris)

Marc Badia, Leslie Bermont, Bertrand Blancheton, Ana Carreras Marin, Léo Charles, Loïc Charles, Guillaume Daudin, Béatrice Dedinger Michel Fouquin, Pierre Gervais, Paul Girard, Michael Huberman, Jules Hugot, Wolf-Fabian Hungerland, Ragnhild Hutchison, David Jacks, Aidan Kane, Thomas Le Roux, Ivan Ledezma, Pierrick Pourchasse and Jan Willem Veluwenkamp and several students.

Short welcome introduction by Guillaume Daudin (local organizer)

1st paper:

Making historical international trade data useful (Germany, 1880-1913)
Presentation by Wolf-Fabian Hungerland (Humboldt-Universitat zu Berlin)

Wolf Fabian discusses the use of the German source and how the goods therein can be classified. Source volumes are disparate: different number of year per volume, number of categories and classification different. This is what it is very useful to use a SITC classification.

Then, he opens a discussion on the matching issue (how to find a SITC equivalent to the original product as it was labeled in the source volumes), utilization of SITC 4 was privileged. Results are encouraging so far.
Object of the database: study the extensive margin over the long period.

2nd paper:

Standardization of Latin American trade statistics. Sources and methodology for a study on the diversification of export baskets
Presentation by Ana Carreras Marin (Universidad de Barcelona).

Ana Carreras discusses the industrial and geographical diversification of Latin America’s trade c. 1913. There is Trade-off between standardization and the specificity of the economy one is analyzing.
Research issue : multi-goods partners in extensive / intensive margins.
There is a discussion around whether it is a good idea to use the SITC classification?

3rd paper:
Domestic Barriers to International Trade: New Evidence for Brazil, 1920‐1940
by Michael Huberman (Université de Montréal)
In his paper, M. Huberman addresses the issue of the relationship between coastal domestic trade and international trade. Was the former a substitute for the last, or was it part of an educational process of the entrepreneurs that subsequently became exporter ?
Research issue : the study domestic trade in parallel with international trade.

3rd paper:
Custom 15: Constructing a database of Ireland’s international trade 1698-1784
Presented by Aidan Kane

Data capture and cleaning of trade data for each year 1698-1784 is now essentially done, and will be soon generally available. Data typically distinguishes six or seven major trading areas. The data are available for around 25 Irish ports, in each year, and the originals are remarkably consistent in format over the time period. Aidan underlines the small number of commodities (500s). 140 volumes of ledgers digitized over the period 1698-1784. Exports much less precise than imports
They did the arithmetic checks automatically
Right now, no classification but he is looking forward to use SITC.

4th paper:
English/British/UK Trade Statistics 1700-1899
Presentation by David Jacks (Simon Fraser University and NBER)

1 out of 10 years digitized. Around 130,000 raw observations (100,000 in SITC). Looking at gravity (distance versus empire)
Problem of prices (resolved at an aggregated level by indexes)
Names of commodities normalized into the database (original spelling not retrievable)

5th paper:
Choosing a Product Nomenclature: The French Case 1836-1938
By Bertrand Blancheton
Working on « commerce spécial » (without transit trade)
The impact of tarifs on specialization ? Choice of classification : SITC versus ISIC ?

6th paper:
The Norwegian customs project- classification and standardization – a practical solution?
By Ragnhild Hutchinson (University of Oslo and Norwegian Institute of Local history)

27 ports for 9 years from 1686 to 1835. The project tried 4-digit SITC and the 1870 classification, but it did not work out : too much time and the match was no good (classification too modern).
This no classification so far, but she wants to implement a suggested classification option as in Navigocorpus.
Funding obtained mostly through private donors, but it constrained the project somewhat: short-term funding renewed several times and for teaching rather than research purpose.

7th paper:

Sound Toll Registers Online, 1497-1857. Standardisation and classification issues.
By Jan Willem Veluwenkamp (Groningen)
Again, the difficulty of using a precise SITC category is apparent.

8th paper:

Your ‘goods’ are not my ‘products’; a preliminary methodological discussion of our instinctive belief in the permanence of things over time and of its unintended consequence
by Pierre Gervais (Paris 3 Sorbonne Nouvelle)
Argue that the main difficulty that arise with any classification of the trade of traditional economies is that it had to cope with commodities that are to a large extent unique for each local context (an ‘indienne’ in Bordeaux in 1726 might not be the same an ‘indienne’ in Marseille in 1726 or an ‘indienne’ in Bordeaux in 1756, etc.)

Wrap-up session :
Guillaume Daudin presented the datascape methodology and how it was applied in the TOFLIT18 project to manage the French balance of trade dataset. Then, he moved on to show some preliminaty results and how the visualization of the relation between commodities illustrates how La Rochelle changed from a port with a diversified set of exports in the 1720s to a much more specialised one in the 1780s.

Loïc Charles gave some concluding remarks. Suggest that they are two different strategies to build a trade database : either to digitize the data and try to save up as much as you can or try to simplify. The latter was the only option available before the IT revolution of the 2000s. But now, it is of the utmost importance of keeping everything in the database.
Second point : You do not have to define a classification ex-ante. Quite the contrary, the philosophy of the datascape is to have a tool that allow the ex-post creation of several classifications in a relatively short period of time (a few weeks). The argument is that each research issue requires more or less a different classification : if one wants to work on an historical issue, it is better to use a classification close to the sources, while SITC is better for long period studies especially when comparison with 20th century is wanted.
Finally opens a discussion on a possible convergence at a European level, through an ERC project.

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