A Caltech Library Service

Quantitative Social-Scientific History

Kousser, J. Morgan (1979) Quantitative Social-Scientific History. Social Science Working Paper, 272. California Institute of Technology , Pasadena, CA. (Unpublished)

[img] PDF (sswp 272 - Jun. 1979) - Submitted Version
See Usage Policy.


Use this Persistent URL to link to this item:


Quantitative social science launched its invasion of American history during the years 1957 to 1961. In 1957, Lee Benson, a historian schooled in sociology, published a sweeping critique of "impressionistic" treatments of nineteenth-century American elections and called on historians to expand their definition of primary sources beyond newspapers and manuscripts to include quantifiable data. Four years later Benson added practice to preachment, relying heavily on a quantitative analysis of election returns to produce a brilliant and original interpretation of American politics in the 1830s and 40s. In a paper delivered in 1957, two Harvard economists, Alfred H. Conrad and John R. Meyer, reinvigorated the discussion of an old historical problem and initiated the new "econometric history" by demonstrating the profitability both of slavery and of applying modern economic theory and techniques to history. By 1960, the "cliometricians," as they were jibingly labeled, were holding annual conferences at Purdue to coordinate research efforts and criticize each other's papers. A year before, the historian Merle Curti, assisted by several other historians and his psychologist wife, Margaret, published a quantitative historical study of community social structure and mobility, which, along with the work of Stephan Thernstrom, inspired legions of students to take up the "new social history."

Item Type:Report or Paper (Working Paper)
Related URLs:
URLURL TypeDescription ItemPublished Version
Additional Information:I want to thank my colleagues John F. Benton, Lance E. Davis, Nicholas Dirks, Daniel J. Kevles, and Terrence McDonald for comments on this essay, although they would not want to be held responsible for the resulting document. My general viewpoint and many specific points so closely parallel those in the excellent set of review essays edited by Allan G. Bogue and Jerome M. Clubb for American Behavioral Scientist, XXI (1977), 163-310, especially Bogue and Clubb's "History, Quantification, and the Social Sciences," ibid., 167-86, that I can no longer sort out those ideas which I had independently from those I stole from that set of essays. To avoid repetition I shall display the fruits of this burglary without further acknowledgement. Published as Kousser, J. Morgan. "Quantitative social-scientific history." The past before us: Contemporary historical writing in the US (1980): 433-456.
Group:Social Science Working Papers
Series Name:Social Science Working Paper
Issue or Number:272
Record Number:CaltechAUTHORS:20171016-162722880
Persistent URL:
Usage Policy:No commercial reproduction, distribution, display or performance rights in this work are provided.
ID Code:82396
Deposited By: Jacquelyn Bussone
Deposited On:17 Oct 2017 23:21
Last Modified:03 Oct 2019 18:54

Repository Staff Only: item control page