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Quantitative History

  Quantitative history is the application of statistical methods to the analysis of historical data. Influenced by positivism and by the behavioural movement in the social sciences (see behaviourism), 19th- and 20th-century historians began to adopt quantitative approaches to analyse existing historical statistics as well as to convert non-numeric forms of data into numeric forms. The approach can be used as a means of adding rigour to traditional historical description, and indeed to refute previous conventional wisdom.

Before quantitative history developed, the incorporation of demography, based primarily upon the analysis of census data, was under-utilized by historians. It was also rare for historians to count or systematically analyse votes in legislatures, or to analyse economic and social data informed by bodies of social scientific theory. Considerable benefits have also been derived from the formal content analysis or lexicometry, studying the frequency of key words or themes in historic texts. Quantitative methods are now applied to test hypotheses in support of specific theories. For example, Snyder and Tilly used historical records of agricultural and protest data in France to argue against a ‘relative deprivation’ theory of the causes of collective violence. Critics of the quantitative approach to history argue that apart from the inherent problems of reliability and validity, statistical records are of limited use when analysed outside the social and political context of the era. They in turn are rightly accused of an obscurantism which masks their own mathematical incompetence. Used properly, quantitative methods are an indispensable tool for a rigorous historian. BO\'L

See also history; historicism.Further reading R. Floud, An Introduction to Quantitative Methods for Historians; , L. Haskins, Understanding Quantitative History; , C.H. Lee, Social Science and History: an Investigation into the Application of Theory and Quantification in British Economic and Social History.



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