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Why Canada’s Open Data Initiative Matters to Historians

Ian Milligan

OK, you’re all forgiven: when you hear ‘open data,’ the first thing that springs to mind probably isn’t a historian (to some historians, it’s the first episode of the BBC show ‘Yes, Minister’). In general, you’d be right: most open data releases tend to do with scientific, technical, statistical, or other applications (releasing bus route information, for example, or the location of geese at the UW campus). Increasingly, however, we’re beginning to see a trickle of historical open data.

Open government is, in a nutshell, the idea that the people of a country should be able to access, read, and even manipulate the data that a country generates. It is not new to Canada: Statistics Canada has been running the Data Liberation Program since at least late 1996, and there have been predecessors before that, but the current government has been pushing an action plan which has materialized in