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Historical Inference and Event-Structure Analysis

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  04 August 2010

Marcel van der Linden
Affiliation:
Internationaal Instituut voor Sociale Geschiedenis, Amsterdam
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Summary

INTRODUCTION

Event-structure analysis (ESA) is a member of a family of formal analytic procedures designed to analyze and interpret text, in particular the temporal sequences constituting the narrative of a historical event. Its basic purpose is to aid the analyst in “unpacking” an event – that is, in breaking it into constituent parts - and analytically reconstituting it as a causal interpretation of what happened and why it happened as it did. ESA focuses on and exploits an event's “narrativity” – its temporal orderliness, connectedness and unfolding – thereby helping historians and social scientists infer causal links between actions in an event, identify its contingencies and follow their consequences, and explore its myriad sequential patterns. Unlike most other formal analytical techniques, it is completely nonnumeric and non-statistical: ESA's value is largely heuristic and centered on how it relentlessly probes the analyst's construction, comprehension and interpretation of the event.

More firmly and self-consciously than do most formal analytical procedures, ESA partially bridges the often damaging methodological chasm separating narrative history and generalizing social science. On the one hand, it borrows from formal social science methodology several features, including

  1. (a) explicit deployment of theoretical concepts and hypotheses about social life;

  2. (b) application, development and validation of causal generalizations;

  3. (c) use of replicable procedures of analysis.

By forcing the user to be meticulous in the construction of narratives, to reason causally about unfolding temporal sequences, and to be clear about the bases of causal and interpretive judgements, ESA lays bare the investigator's understanding so starkly – literally, as will be seen, as a diagram of the logic of action – that insights into causal connectedness and significance are intensely sharpened.

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Publisher: Cambridge University Press
Print publication year: 1999

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