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Quantitative History and People’s History: Two Methods in Conflict?

  • Roderick Floud (a1)

Extract

It was fashionable some years ago for historians to speak of the quantitative revolution in their subject and to look forward, either with hope or with foreboding, to the day when history, like geography, sociology, and other social sciences before it, would be dominated by practitioners skilled in quantitative methods. New questions would be asked, new methods used, new sources exploited, and new discoveries made. In the process, those historians without training in quantitative methods would be swept from the battlegrounds of the subject. They would be forced to retreat either into the antiquarianism within which many quantitative historians, privately, located them or they would be forced to undergo a painful process of retooling in a struggle to avoid technological obsolescence. It was a reasonable expectation in those days that a statistical training would become as essential to a historian as a training in foreign languages or experience in burrowing for sources in the record office: As Emmanuel Le Roy Ladurie put it in 1968, by the 1980s “the historian will be a programmer or he will be nothing” (Le Roy Ladurie, 1968). As a result, quantitative historians gathering in the early 1970s thought that the quantitative revolution would be largely complete as the world entered the 1980s.

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