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20131004 Road to the Past

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This is an old book from 1980s in which two views on history presented by two people who actually know what they are talking about. One – Robert Fogel presenting cliometric or scientific approach to history and another one G.R.Elton presenting traditional approach.

Here is the core of their ideas compared by Fogel, Cliometrics vs. Traditional:

• Subject Matter: focus on collectives of people vs. individuals and their stories

• Preferred types of evidence: statistical data and quantitative evidence vs. testimonials

• Standards of proof: documents designed to meet current needs: bill, bureaucratic paperwork, and such vs. legalistic prove by evidence and analogy

• Role of Controversy: cliometricians tend to accept controversy and access part of history based on estimating procedure, while traditional historians evaluate a large work as whole trying to resolve all controversies

• Attitudes toward collaboration: cliometricians work collaboratively and could not work otherwise due to amount of material they analyze, while traditionalists work more as writers creating narrative rather then scientific report.

• Communications with public: Cliometricians’ direct communications at other historians as it is usual for professions which require special knowledge, while traditionalists direct communication at wider public trying to have cultural impact rather then just stay within profession.

Elton response is very interesting. It comes down to the statement that Fogel’s description is somewhat oversimplified and it assigns to traditional historians attitudes and behavior that is just plainly caused by low level of professionalism of some individuals, rather then different attitude to the subject.

Overall I find a very little of substantial difference. Cliometrics is just an expansion of method of development of historical knowledge that allows including a significant number of material evidence which was not possible before advances in information technology allowed dramatically expand our ability to process it.

The 30 years that passed since this discussion took place seems to show, that eventually both method merged into one process of developing historical knowledge that materially improved quality of such knowledge.


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