The Hague Colloquium on the Future of Legal Identity

Civil Registration Centre for Development, The Hague and the Wits Institute for Social and Economic Research, Johannesburg

Eddy Higgs

History, University of Essex

Most of my early work was on the history and use of census records in England, which were intimately linked to births, marriages and deaths registration since they are required for the calculation of vital rates. This has been a continuous theme in my activities, either in terms of commentaries on the source, or the creation of digital datasets. This led on in the 1990s to a consideration of the development of the London General Register Office, the body responsible for civil registration and census-taking in England from 1837 onwards. In the early years of the present century, I expanded my interests in official data gathering to the English state as a whole from 1500 onwards. In more recent years I have also written on the history of personal identification in England over the same period – from medieval seals to biometrics.


Identifying the English: Personal Identification 1500 to the Present (London: Continuum, 2011)

The Information State in England: the central collection of information on citizens since 1500 (London: Palgrave, 2004).

Life, Death and Statistics: Civil Registration, Censuses and the work of the General Register Office, 1837-1952 (Hatfield: Local Population Studies, 2004)

Making Sense of the Census. The Manuscript Returns for England and Wales, 1801-1901 (London: HMSO, 1989). 

Online resources

[With Kevin Schurer] Integrated Census Microdata (I-CeM), UK Data Archive (SN7481).

The Integrated Census Microdata (I-CeM) Guide. Co-author with Christine Jones, Kevin Schürer, and Amanada Wilkinson.

Journal articles

Fingerprints and citizenship: the British State and the identification of pensioners in the inter-war period’, History Workshop Journal (2010), pp. 52-67

Change and continuity in the techniques and technologies of identification over the second Christian millenium’, Identity in the Information Society 2(3)(2010), pp. 345-54.

The rise of the Information State: the development of central state surveillance of the citizen in England, 1500-2000’, Journal of Historical Sociology14 (2)(May, 2001), pp. 175-97.

The statistical Big Bang of 1911: ideology, technological innovation and the production of medical statistics’, Social History of Medicine, 9(3) (Dec. 1996), 409-26

A cuckoo in the nest?: The origins of civil registration and state medical statistics in England and Wales’ Continuity and Change , 11(1) (1996), 115-34.

Diseases, febrile poisons, and statistics: the census as a medical survey', Social History of Medicine, 4, 1991, pp 465-78. 

Contributions to collections

Further thoughts on The Information State in England … since 1500’, in Kees Boersma, Rosamunde van Brakel, Chiara Fonio and Pieter Wagenaar (eds.), Histories of Surveillance in Europe and Beyond (London: Palgrave, 2014), pp. 17-31.

Consuming Identity and Consuming the State’ in Ilsen About, James Brown, and Gayle Lonergan (eds.), People, Papers, and Practices: Identification and Registration in Transnational Perspective, 1500-2010 (London: Palgrave, 2013), pp. 164-84.

[With Jane Caplan] ‘The future of identification’s past: reflections on the development of historical identification studies’ in Ilsen About, James Brown, and Gayle Lonergan (eds.), People, Papers, and Practices: Identification and Registration in Transnational Perspective, 1500-2010 (London: Palgrave, 2013), pp. 302-8.
Consumers, citizens, and deviants: differing forms of personal identification in England since the Victorian period’, in Kerstin Brückweh (ed.), The voice of the citizen consumer: a history of market research, consumer movements and the political public sphere (London: Oxford University Press, 2011), pp. 179-98

The State and Statistics in Victorian and Edwardian Britain: Promotion of the Public Sphere or Boundary Maintenance?’, in Tom Crook and Glen O’Hara (eds.), Statistics and the Public Sphere: Numbers and the People in Modern Britain, c. 1750 – c. 2000 (London: Routledge, 2011), pp. 67-83.

Personal identification as information flows in England, 1500-2000’, in Toni Weller (ed.), Information history in the Modern World (London: Palgrave Macmillan, 2011), pp. 13-30.

Are state-mediated forms of identification a reaction to physical mobility? The case of England, 1500-2007’, in Elisabeth de Leeuw, Simone Fischer-Hübner, Jimmy Tseng, and John Borking (eds)