DDD – a unique Danish volunteer project celebrates 20 years

News: 2012-11-15

This year the Danish Demographic Database (DDD) celebrates its 20th anniversary. The project, which over the years has involved thousands of amateur historians, has led to a unique digitized material of interest to both science and genealogy. The database currently contains historical information from church records and censuses concerning more than 15 million Danes.

Proofreader Erik G. Andresen, project leader Nanna Floor Clausen, National Archivist Asbjørn Hellum, project founder Hans Jørgen Marker, keyboarder Lotte Braendegaard Hvid and Minister of Culture Uffe Elbæk celebrates the Danish Demographic Database anniversary.

In one of the films produced to mark the occasion, the Danish Minister of Culture, Uffe Elbæk, comments the project:

– Ordinary Danes have made a very unordinary project together. In a way we have activated a collective memory on a level that we have never experienced before, so as a minister of culture, I’m so happy. Everyone can access it from their home computer or their laptop, and of course we can see how many people who are visiting the website; it’s overwhelming, he says.

The demographic database has more than 1.5 million visitors per year and the ongoing work is co-ordinated by the Danish Data Archive (DDA). It was also at the DDA that the project started, and one of those responsible for this was SND's director Hans Jørgen Marker, then head of one of DDA's departments.

– The idea actually emerged in the DDA kitchen in the late 1980's, but it took a few years before we could get started for real. We saw that there were opportunities to create a research infrastructure for the demographic data by working with all the amateur historians in Denmark. And they are still active entering new data in the project, says Hans Jørgen Marker.

DDD is the largest project in Denmark based on so-called crowdsourcing, which means that the data collection, or in this case the data entry, is done by of a large number of private individuals. In Sweden, the corresponding data instead was collected through a number of public projects for the unemployed.

– That possibility did not exist in Denmark, so therefore we had to build DDD on a voluntary basis. But since the amateur historians also saw the benefits for themselves, there was no problem arranging work in this way, says Hans Jørgen Marker.

Besides the large volunteer effort, Minister Elbæk also emphasizes that digitization is important from a democratic point of view:

– How can we learn together, how can we be critical citizens, how can we be more clever citizens and how can we be more creative citizens? For me, digitalization is so much about taking the enlightenment project to the next level.