Numbers I Assignment (1101): Introduction to Historical Statistics

Questions this assignment addresses: How can we use numbers to understand our past? You will read, use websites and a spreadsheet, answer questions, and submit your answers to the dropbox Numbers I.

1. For the first part of this lesson, please play a game.

Go to

Play the game. Do you understand why you should always switch?

If not, go to for an explanation.

2. Learning Outcomes: By the end of this lesson students will be able to-

  1. Identify the difference between the mean, median, and mode of a group of numbers.
  2. Open a spreadsheet file using Excel, Numbers, LibreOffice, or Excel Online.
  3. Adjust and read a wage graph.
  4. Identify why the number of years averaged in a graph matter.
  5. Read a spreadsheet by using tabs.
  6. Answer questions about the past by interpreting data.

3. Why do historical statistics matter?

Let’s tackle that one word at a time, backwards. Statistics matter because we use numbers to measure our lives, whether it’s the dollars in our bank account, the number of friends we have on facebook, or how full a glass is (half full?) Increasingly, statistics are used to convince us in the truth of an argument. Yet, without a basic understanding of statistics, people often fall back into the cynicism that all numbers lie. Numbers are just information, and just as we apply the PISA test to sources, so too can we apply certain standards for what is a credible statistic.

Why do statistics matter to history? Numbers show us trends, that is up or down, in parts of our lives that are important. How much food, per person, does one society provide over time? How is income distributed to a people, mostly to the rulers, or does every group have a sizable chunk? As well, numbers let us compare groups that are fare apart from each other in geographic or temporal terms. Did the Han Chinese of 100 CE have greater economic output than the Holy Roman Empire in Europe of 100 CE? Statistics matter because we can see trends (changes over time) and comparisons.

4. What is an average? Questions to answer.

To start, let’s deal with a simple concept: an average. There are three types of averages, the mean, median, and mode.

For a text definition of these terms, see–2312604

For video explanation, see

Questions:Please answer Let’s say a large village had 25 people die in a single year. Below is the age of each deceased villager.

As a historian, when you see the word “average” you always need to ask if it’s the mean, median, or mode and is that the most useful average for understanding the past.

If you’d like more help understanding mean, median, and mode, you can see a video here.

5. A brief pause for technical help.

For the next part of the lesson, you need access to a spreadsheet program. You can use Microsoft Excel or Mac Numbers if those programs are already on your computer. If you don’t want to use those programs, you’ll need to do one of two things:

  1. Download and install the free office software LibreOffice . This will give you a free version of a spreadsheet program.


  1. Use Excel Online, the free software that’s part of your Normandale email account. You have Microsoft excel in your Office 365 account, which you can log into here ( First, save the document for this readings called “Historical Statistics for the World Economy, 1–1500 CE” to your free Microsoft OneDrive. The next several slides are to help folks get a spreadsheet program. If you have one, skip down to the Wages part of the lesson.


  1. Open the spreadsheet in Google docs if you have a google account. (The way to do this is about the same as using Excel online).

Below is what Excel looks like on a Mac.

A brief pause for technical help.
A brief pause for technical help.

6. If you don’t have Excel or the LibreOffice version of it…

  1. You have Microsoft excel in your Office 365 account, which you can log into here ( Download the files
If you don't have Excel or the LibreOffice version of it. . .
If you don't have Excel or the LibreOffice version of it…

7. Choose “Excel Online”

Once you’ve opened that up, you’ll want to open a file from OneDrive. Your page will look similar, but not exactly like this one.

Choose "Excel Online"
Choose "Excel Online"

8. Once you’re in OneDrive,

  1. Download the “Historical Statistics for the World Economy, 1–1500 CE”to your computer and

  2. Upload the file into the OneDrive, so you can open it in Excel Online.

Once you're in OneDrive,
Once you're in OneDrive,

9. How much did we make? An introduction to big historical numbers.

Open “Historical Statistics for the World Economy: 1–1500”.

The first tab (1) is an introduction and not terribly useful to use. Tabs 2,3, and 4 will offer us more useful information.