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History 395: Migration in African History: Working with the ACS

In-Class Workshop

Part I:  Accessing and Evaluating the Data

1.  Review the 2012 individual ACS questionnaire.  Answers to which questions would most likely be useful to you for understanding African migration to the United States?  Why?  What might be the limitations of these questions?


2.   What is the foreign-born population of the state of Washington? From which countries do these people migrate?

      a.  What can Easy Stats tell you?  What can't it tell you?  Can you drill down further than the state level? Would you be able to download the data in Excel or CSV format?

      b.  What can Quick Facts tell you?  What can't it tell you?  How far down can you drill?  Would you be able to download the data?

      c.  Now use American FactFinder.  What kinds of ACS data are available to you?  What questions do you have that the available tables still don't answer?

3.  The Census Bureau maintains a section on its website devoted to the topic of the foreign-born population.  Be sure to look at the sub-section on data.  Do you see any supplemental tables that might be useful to you for this class?!

     a.  What can you find out about the immigrant population from Africa in the Seattle-Tacoma-Bellevue metro area?

     b.  What questions do you have that can't be answered by these tables?


4.  You now are going to work with specific populations defined by place of birth.  Use the "Selected Population Profiles" (all dates, all datasets) option.  To create tables by place of birth, just type the name of a country in the "topic or table name" box next to "Refine your search results."

     a.  Request a table for Eritrea for the United States as a whole.  Why might this be a problematic category?  How far can you drill down (by state, county, city, block)?  

     b.  Request the same table for Ethiopia.  How far can you drill down?

     c.  Request a dataset for an African country of your choice.


Part II:  Generating Research Questions

Now that you've familiarized yourself with the datasets available from the American Community Survey, it's time to put the data into conversation with what you've been learning about the African diaspora.  What research questions might you want to ask?  Some things to consider:

  • What geographic units are relevant to your questions?
  • What specific population characteristics are most relevant to your questions?
  • What African country or countries are the most relevant?

Before the next class, create two or three datasets in Excel format that contain information you are most interested in seeing mapped.  Save these datasets on Dropbox or email them to yourself as attachments.  We will use these files during the workshop on using CartoDB.