Community Research and Development Information Service - CORDIS

Final Report Summary - MAIL (Following the Letter trail; mapping and analyzing economic development with historical postal data)

The main purpose of the research project “Following the Letter trail” was twofold. The first, intermediate, step was the creation of data sets covering a number of different postal indicators. The intended time period was the long 19th century, which covered the transformation of the European mail services into the modern services we know today. The second step was the use of these data sets to analyse a number of questions about the long-term development of these economies, in particular their economic geography.
The collection of the data sets focused in particular on Germany, the United States and international collections through the Universal Postal Union. The reason behind the focus is the very comprehensive nature of the historical data collection and publication practice of these states. While the British Postal administration didn’t publish geographically detailed information, and archival records weren’t very structured in this regard either. The German postal service, especially the Imperial service after its creation in 1871, developed a strong statistical service that collected detailed information about the use of the communication service throughout its territory. The US postal service didn’t focus as much on statistical data collection, but through its administration structure a number of internal records have very detailed geographic data.
The collection and creation German data sets are the furthest advanced. Using the borders of 1990 a complete cross-section of postal indicators covering every location with a post office in 1876 has been created. Additionally the establishment year of each office has been collected. Concerning the American data, the focus is currently on georeferencing data from the early 19th century, detailing postmaster salaries and postal revenues at each office. Additionally local data on postal savings from the early 20th century is also getting referenced. Although the status of these data sets varies, some of them are close to completion and will eventually be deposited in the relevant international data repositories.
The first part of the analysis focuses on the spatial diffusion of public services, attempting to answer what factors led to the establishment of a service in a particular location. Preliminary results indicate that the diffusion of the mail service in Germany was predominantly influenced by population size of a location. This implies that the diffusion patterns of a public service look quite similar to that expected under corresponding private arrangement. However second order effects exist that demonstrate the influence of political and other factors as well.

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