The Dem-Ist database is an online platform hosted by the ”Nicolae Iorga” Institute of History, of the Romanian Academy. Our purpose is to publish old censuses and population lists from 18th and 19th century Moldavia and Wallachia, the two principalities that in 1859 united to form Romania.
The importance of digital media in applying new scientific methods or simply publishing sources is obvious since a few decades ago. In Romania, acknowledging this fact first lead to progress for Transylvania, which benefited from the creation of the Historical Population Database of Transylvania, by the Centre for Population Studies, Babeş-Bolyai University (Cluj-Napoca, Romania). For the territory outside the Carpathians, digitization attracted very limited interest. While the prejudice that ”sources do not exist” persisted until recently, today we see new sources being discovered in the archives, with some being published in traditional format (books). In fact, enough has been published for local historians to ask themselves: how can we better use this material? If we look at what remained unpublished, the perspective we get is not only encouraging, but also overwhelming. From fiscal accounts to census forms and vital records, the material stored in the archives contains millions of entries, which cannot be valued efficiently and at their full potential, unless it’s done digitally.
The idea of creating a database for the former principalities dates for many years. This project could be implemented due to financial support offered by the ”Patrimoniu” Foundation, from the Donators’ Fund, GAR-UM-2019- II-2.9-10, through the Romanian’s Academy grant program. After winning the 2019 competition, this platform was created by a team of employees of the institute:
• Bogdan Mateescu, project director, in charge with scientific tasks: editing sources, compiling datasets;
• Nicolae Coman, project member, in charge with IT tasks: making the site and online interface.
Two similar projects served as models for Dem-Ist: MOSAIC, which offers historical population samples, and HPDT, that, in addition, is equipped with an online search engine. Inspired from both sides, we offer downloadable datasets, as well as the possibility to browse online through some of their content.
We launched the Dem-Ist database in the autumn of 2021, with population samples limited to 22403 individuals from the 1837/8 Wallachian census. Over time, we hope to increase their size and expand to other sources, as well as improving the functionalities of the site.
We thus wish to encourage not only access to historical information, but also a better integration of demography and statistics into historical research of the principalities, especially in social and economic history.
Bogdan Mateescu, project director