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Old July 30th, 2012, 03:54 PM   #1

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Quantitive history.


" Do not worship at the shine of that Bitch-Goddess Quantification. " Carl Bridenbaugh.

Here are two examples of quantitive history, one positive and one negative.

Quantification shattered the myth that the English household in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries did not typically take the form of the extended family. On the other hand Fogel and Engermen's Time on the Cross (1974) amazingly revealed the slave owners as a caring and and rational class and the slaves as a thriving and well cared for work force. A case of quantification ran wild.

How far do you think Quantification has assisted historians and can you give examples supporting or refuting its usefulness ?
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Old July 30th, 2012, 04:05 PM   #2

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Well "quantification" would be the logical conclusion. Historians have little recourse in terms of methodology. They put their faith in comparative history but realize this isn't exactly rigorous or comparable to science. All they have left is physics and I don't know a single historian willing to wade into that territory.
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Old July 30th, 2012, 04:14 PM   #3

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Quote:
Originally Posted by Von Ranke View Post
" Do not worship at the shine of that Bitch-Goddess Quantification. " Carl Bridenbaugh.

Here are two examples of quantitive history, one positive and one negative.

Quantification shattered the myth that the English household in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries did not typically take the form of the extended family. On the other hand Fogel and Engermen's Time on the Cross (1974) amazingly revealed the slave owners as a caring and and rational class and the slaves as a thriving and well cared for work force. A case of quantification ran wild.

How far do you think Quantification has assisted historians and can you give examples supporting or refuting its usefulness ?
I've always thought there was a certain degree of danger making blanket statements such as the one you mentioned above (regarding slave families). I have done genealogical research for a number of years and present on various subjects and teach classes on researching specific ethnicities. I always premise my classes with a statement which informs the "students" that there are no definites in genealogy and the same can be said of history. When you establish a rule, there's almost always an exception.

I've used quantitative on small scale but it always is in regards to something that is naturally about numbers to begin with (e.g. voting, money items, population, etc.). Numbers can be manipulated to say just about anything you want them to. In that case, quantitative history can lead to misinterpretations and false conclusions.
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Old July 30th, 2012, 04:14 PM   #4

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Originally Posted by jehosafats View Post
Well "quantification" would be the logical conclusion. Historians have little recourse in terms of methodology. They put their faith in comparative history but realize this isn't exactly rigorous or comparable to science. All they have left is physics and I don't know a single historian willing to wade into that territory.
Neither do I but economic history which is mainly based on statistics has been helpful to the historian provided the historian brings examples of the particular and the unique to bear on the findings.
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Old July 30th, 2012, 04:21 PM   #5

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I've always thought there was a certain degree of danger making blanket statements such as the one you mentioned above (regarding slave families). I have done genealogical research for a number of years and present on various subjects and teach classes on researching specific ethnicities. I always premise my classes with a statement which informs the "students" that there are no definites in genealogy and the same can be said of history. When you establish a rule, there's almost always an exception.

I've used quantitative on small scale but it always is in regards to something that is naturally about numbers to begin with (e.g. voting, money items, population, etc.). Numbers can be manipulated to say just about anything you want them to. In that case, quantitative history can lead to misinterpretations and false conclusions.
Yes torturing the statistics does seem to be the trademark of some quantitive historians on the other hand Le Roy ladurie's Peasants of Languedoc is largely based on statistical evidence. Having said that it is not as satisfying as his work Montaillou which uses testimony from primary sources as its basis.
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Old July 30th, 2012, 04:24 PM   #6

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One obvious example from recent Danish history comes to mind. Historian Aage Trommer showed in his 1971 doctoral thesis through quantification that the sabotage against the railways carried out by Danish resistance during WWII didn't have any significant impact on German troop and material movement through Denmark, despite the post-war Danish myth to the contrary.

This naturally did upset the surviving resistance fighter community and a significant amount of historians, however his findings stand to this day, and modern academia has turned toward a more symbolic (in regards to both foreign and domestic policy) interpretation of the Danish resistance.
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Old July 30th, 2012, 04:29 PM   #7

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One obvious example from recent Danish history comes to mind. Historian Aage Trommer showed in his 1971 doctoral thesis through quantification that the sabotage against the railways carried out by Danish resistance during WWII didn't have any significant impact on German troop and material movement through Denmark, despite the post-war Danish myth to the contrary.

This naturally did upset the surviving resistance fighter community and a significant amount of historians, however his findings stand to this day, and modern academia has turned toward a more symbolic (in regards to both foreign and domestic policy) interpretation of the Danish resistance.
That is an excellent example of quantitive history at its best but I can imagine the response of the brave Danish resistance fighters who risked there lives to disrupt the Nazi troop movements. In the end truth should always be the ultimate concern of the historian.
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Old July 30th, 2012, 08:18 PM   #8
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So if Fogel and Engermen's Time on the Cross (1974) doesn't show slave owners as absolutely evil then there is a problem with the quantitative method. Lets not be confused by the facts.
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Old July 31st, 2012, 02:45 AM   #9

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So if Fogel and Engermen's Time on the Cross (1974) doesn't show slave owners as absolutely evil then there is a problem with the quantitative method. Lets not be confused by the facts.
" Absolutely evil " are your words Mike not mine though I think it is fair to point out that slave owners were hardly paragons of philanthropy toward there human cattle although there may have been individual slave owners who were more humane than others. The problem with Time on the Cross is that it bases its findings purely on statistics without looking at the testimony of slaves and slave owners. Historians such as Lawrence Stone and G.R. Elton saw the dangers of quantification, Stone describing their adherents as " statistical junkies " while Elton saw the obsession with figures and trends as having a " dehumanising effect " on history. They need not have worried as quantitive history has been transformed by the application of traditional historical methods, so much so, that it is no longer innovatory but part of mainstream history.
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Old July 31st, 2012, 04:17 AM   #10

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Nothing wrong with quantatative history. Simply the data set used to provide it and what one can draw from that.
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