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.

Septembre 16th 2016 Workshop «Classifying trade statistics before 1945»

Chers collègues,

J’ai le plaisir le vous informer de la tenue d’une journée de travail « Classifier le commerce international avant 1945 » à SciencesPo Paris (salle Goguel) le 16 septembre 2016.

Vous êtes tous cordialement invités. Pour des raisons de sécurité (et pour que nous sachions combien de plateaux-repas commander), merci de vous inscrire auprès de Biljana Jankovic

Sincères salutations,

Guillaume Daudin



Classifying international trade before 1945

Classifier le commerce international avant 1945

September 16th 2016
Salle Goguel, SciencesPo, 27 rue Saint Guillaume, 75007 Paris

The long history of globalization is blessed with a comparative abundance of data. Foreign trade has long been a sizable source of income for states and the latter have been careful in collecting information on it: series on international trade starting in the eighteenth century exist for several countries and regions such as England, France, Sweden, the Austrian Netherlands, Venice, Portugal, Spain. (Charles et Daudin 2015). The Sound records go back even further. Hence, much information on past economies may be gained through the systematic collection of these data. This calls for the creation of large databases and there are a number of active projects, under different states of readiness: Ireland, Norway, UK, World, France, Germany, the Sound… The identification and classification of commodities is at the core of any project that want to use these databases for comparative analysis or even to simply use the information collected to its potential.

For example, in the French case, there are more than 45,000 different merchandises mentioned in the 18th century sources (for 400,000 trade flows). Correcting for mistakes made by the original scribes and the person in charge of the transcription brings that number down to 20,000. Further identifying synonyms brings it down to 16,000. It is however necessary to devise some sort of aggregation process to be able to use the data collected to answer a wider set of economic history issues such as those linked to the question of trade diversification, intra-industry trade and revealed comparative advantages.

An additional difficulty is international comparison. There are more problems linked to it than the sole issue of translation. The creation of internationally comparable merchandise classification was a long process starting only in the late 19th century (Kolesnikoff 1953) and it is still a work in progress. Yet, it is central to any comparison process.

Choosing a classification to categorize commodities should meet several criteria: it has to be informed by past practices of recording flows (which are different from one place and one time to another), the characteristics of the past society/economy where trade took place, convenience (as classifying goods is hard work), and the research issue. Among the possible options are: 1. the adaptation of modern nomenclatures, which have a great level of detail, accuracy and comparability, but hardly relates to the economic issues of past societies; or 2. the creation of a tailor-made historical nomenclature, which takes into account the historical context of commercial exchange but begs the issue of intertemporal (and often geographical) comparisons. Moreover, creating a nomenclature takes a lot of time in particular if one wants to produce disaggregated categories. A flexible system of classification that can be integrated in data exploration in order to be able to create detailed categorization for specific purposes within a reasonable amount of time and resources would be ideal. But that requires to invest a substantial amount of work in the creation of sophisticated digital tools, as endeavored by the project TOFLIT18 (


9.00-10.45 What can classifications of goods teach us ?

Wolf-Fabian Hungerland (Humboldt) «Making historical international trade data useful: German product-level data from 1880 to 1913 and the Standard International Trade Classification (SITC)» .Co-author : Chris Altmeppen
Ana Carreras Marin (Barcelona) «Standardization of Latin American trade statistics. Sources and methodology for a study on the diversification of export baskets » Co-authors:  M. Badia-Miró and A. Rayes
Michael Huberman (Montréal) Domestic and International Trade in Interwar Brazil: Complements or Substitutes?

11.00-12.00 Early stages of data collection

Aidan Kane (Galway) « Customs 15: constructing a database of Ireland’s international trade 1698-1784 »
David Jacks (Simon Fraser) « British Trade Statistics, 1700-1899 »

1.30-3.00 Struggling with the classification of goods (1)

Bertrand Blancheton (Bordeaux) « Choosing a product nomenclature: the French case 1836-1938 »
Ragnhild Hutchinson (University of Oslo and Norwegian Institute of Local history ) « The Norwegian customs project- classification and standardization- a practical solution? »

3.15-4.45 Struggling with the classification of goods (2)

Jan Willem Veluwenkamp (Groningen) « Sound Toll Registers Online, 1497-1857. Standardisation and classification issues. »
Pierre Gervais (Paris-3) « 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. »

5.00-6.00 Wrapping up

Loïc Charles (Paris-8) and Guillaume Daudin (Dauphine) : «Multi dimensional classification of goods in a datascape : the TOFLIT18 project»
General discussion and wrapping up
This event is open to all. It is funded by the ANR TOFLIT18 (
Organizers: Guillaume Daudin ( & Loïc Charles (
Inscriptions & information: Biljana Jankovic ( 01 45 49 72 51 or

References :

Charles, Loïc, et Guillaume Daudin, éd. 2015. « Eighteenth Century International Trade Statistics: Sources and Methods ». Revue de l’OFCE (Special Issue), no 140: 7‑377.
Kolesnikoff, Vladimir S. 1953. « Commodity classification ». In International Trade Statistics, par R. G. D. Allen et J. Edwards Ely. New-York and London: John Wiley & Sons Inc. and Chapman & Hall, Limited.


Ramillo Parungao

Bienvenue à Ramillo Parungao, qui nous rejoint milieu juillet pour un stage jusqu’à début septembre.

Ramillo a intégré l’école de commerce ISC Paris après deux ans en classe préparatoire Technologique. Il souhaite se spécialiser en Marketing Digital.

Il a intégré l’équipe du projet Toflit18 le 18 Juillet 2016 dans le cadre d’un stage de validation de sa première année. Il travaillera principalement à l’Université Paris-Dauphine. Il aura pour mission de faire de la retranscription de documents de la balance commerciale qui concernent les exportations de Nantes entre 1728 et 1779.

« J’ai découvert grâce à ce stage en tant que transcripteur données un aperçu du travail de chercheur. Ce stage m’a apporté certaines connaissances au niveau de l’histoire, du commerce et de l’économie en France au xviiie siècle. De plus, j’ai gagné en autonomie et rigueur, car les données sont précises et doivent  être vérifiées pour vérifier la cohérence des documents.

Le projet Toflit18 m’a permis de découvrir une autre facette de l’économie car mon cursus n’a pas couvert l’histoire du commerce. J’ai trouvé intéressantes les corrélations qu’il y’a entre les différents évènements historiques et leurs influences sur le commerce. »