Cliometrics and Quantification

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Michael P. Hanagan

"Cliometrics," a term invented by economic historians, refers to the use of social science approaches in the study of history. "Quantification" refers to techniques for rendering historical sources machine readable and to the application of statistical analysis to historical data; it is commonly used in cliometrics. History was one of the last fields affected by the cliometrics and quantifying revolution, inspired by the spread of logical empiricism, that swept the social sciences in the post–World War II period. The use of statistical techniques in the social sciences acquired considerable momentum in economics in the 1940s and in sociology and political science in the 1950s and 1960s. In the 1960s many student radicals were suspicious of cliometrics and quantification, but others sought to turn the tools of established scholars against them. These cliometricians and historical quantifiers argued that the systematic study of classes and popular groups necessarily depended upon numbers and research designs as opposed to information about elites that could be culled from memoirs and contemporary writings.

Embraced by some younger radicals and some established historical scholars, cliometrics and quantification flourished in the 1960s and 1970s but have come under increasing attack by cultural and postmodernist historians; the eclipse of logical empiricism among social scientists reinforced the postmodernist attack. Despite the development of new and more powerful statistical techniques and the heightened access to these techniques that resulted from the spread of personal computers and the development of statistical software, the expansion of cliometrics and quantification methods has slowed. The 1980s and 1990s witnessed a decline in the standing of cliometrics and quantification but, paradoxically, also witnessed the appearance of some of the most outstanding and important products of these methods and approaches.


Cliometrics was largely a product of the 1960s and it emerged most powerfully in the United States, but important historians in almost every European country were influenced by or shared its perspective. At the time, the dominant methodological approach within the social sciences was the logical empiricism of Karl Popper (1902–1994) and Carl Gustav Hempel (1905–). Their approach emphasized the separation of theory and observation. According to Popper and Hempel, theories proposed universal natural laws generating testable statements about events. Empirical investigation confirmed these statements and thus corroborated the theory or disconfirmed them and falsified the theory.

True to its empiricist roots, logical empiricism was very little interested in causation. To say that "x causes y " was to say: (1) that x preceded y, (2) that x and y were highly correlated, and (3) that there was some plausible story explaining why x might produce y. Logical empiricists were not particularly concerned with the actual mechanisms connecting x and y and remained satisfied with very general explanations of the causal factors at work. For example, social scientists might investigate whether a father's economic status or a child's educational attainment better predicted the child's occupational level, and they would see their work as addressing the question of whether family influence or intelligence was more important in explaining success. Very little attention was paid to the actual processes connecting job applicants to job markets.

The logical empiricist approach to the social sciences rapidly gained ground during the immediate post–World War II period, the era of the cold war when social scientists sought to develop social policies in response to a perceived communist threat and to the social and economic problems caused by colonial revolution and decolonization. The development of what was called modernization theory in the social sciences in the United States focused on problems of industrializing and "modernizing" less-developed nations and on reconstructing a devastated Europe. In the United States, the application of statistical techniques to economics and psychology in the 1940s and 1950s, followed by sociology and political science in the 1950s and 1960s, pointed the way for social-science–oriented historians. Among the most important developments within the social sciences, particularly sociology, was the elaboration of powerful statistical techniques taught in courses required for graduate students. Far and away the most important of these formal methods was regression analysis and related techniques, more formally known as the general linear model (GLM). In simplest terms, GLM measures to what extent a straight-line relationship exists between two variables such that a given change in variable x corresponds to a consistently proportional change in variable y.

While always important in the social sciences, measurement played an especially important role in the logical empiricist understanding of science, for it was essential to verification. The statistical techniques that social scientists developed fitted well their conceptions of proof—the individualist assumptions of these techniques also reflected scholars' concepts of the social world. In the 1960s great strides were made in developing GLM as a technique for comparing the variation of one or more different factors, independent variables, with the variation in another factor, the dependent variable. While GLM was indeed a powerful tool of statistical analysis and every student learned by rote its basic constraints, the analytical significance of these constraints was seldom discussed in any detail, probably because the individualistic assumptions of the statistical method so easily coincided with those of the dominant theories. One of these assumptions was "case-wise independence," the condition that what happens in one case does not influence what happens in any other. For example, a GLM analysis of the role of a child's educational level in explaining occupational level assumes that education exerts its influence separately and individually on each child. But one of the most basic understandings about the character of job markets, that they can constitute niches filled by groups who hire their own, violates the assumption of case-wise independence when each applicant is treated as an individual. The idea that clusters of individuals exert influence—that Ivy Leaguers hire Ivy Leaguers or Italian contractors hire Italian laborers—the basic argument of network analysis, presents special difficulties for GLM. The spread of personal computers made GLM analysis widely accessible. The rapid development of statistical packages such as the Statistical Package for the Social Sciences (SPSS) made advanced statistical analysis accessible to a wide audience, and the adoption of interactive statistical programs for personal computers greatly increased the number of potential users. A characteristic feature of SPSS was that it was best adopted for dealing with "attributive data," that is, with individual cases, each of which possessed distinctive characteristics—precisely the kind of data best suited for GLM. In the 1960s, GLM analysis of several thousands of cases often required access to computers and computer programs only available in a few dozen universities in the United States. By the 1980s the same analyses could be carried out at home on a personal computer and later via the Internet.

In the early 1980s cliometrics and quantification advanced rapidly in part due to the application and development of powerful new statistical techniques, the nonlinear probability models, known as "logit" and "probit" models. The introduction of nonlinear probability models greatly facilitated the application of familiar statistical techniques to entire new categories of data. While GLM techniques had some very desirable statistical properties and were widely available and easily interpretable, they were most effective when both the "dependent variable," what was to be explained, and the "independent variables," the explanatory factors, were expressed in continuous interval measures rather than in qualitative categories. GLM techniques could often produce statistically reliable estimates when using, for instance, years of education or father's social status to predict adult income, but often yielded serious misestimates when used to explain, for example, how religion or marital status related to political party affiliation. New techniques replaced estimates of linear relations between dependent and independent variables with estimates of the probability of nonlinear relations. Thus, analyses of relationships among individual units of data were extended to a very large body of questions of great importance to historians and social scientists.

One of the reasons that it is important to distinguish between quantification, the application of statistical methods to historical data, and cliometrics, the application of social science research designs to historical analysis, is that different types of statistical analyses appealed to different groups. Analytical statistics that included GLM and probability models was often used by cliometricians, while non-cliometric quantifiers often favored descriptive statistics. GLM and nonlinear probability models were favored by cliometricians who emphasized the need to clearly define and measure both dependent and independent variables and who often used sampling techniques and measures of strength and reliability. Non–social-science quantifiers were for their part most interested in descriptive statistics—the world of means, modes and averages—that made it possible for scholars to quickly summarize some phenomenon that interested them which might then be integrated into more traditional historical analyses. Computers enabled these scholars to deal with amounts of data undreamt of by previous scholars, but much of this work involved creating series of tables that compared one variable with others but did not search for complex relationships among explanatory variables and generally did not employ sampling techniques.

Relying heavily on quantification, the cliometric movement spread among historians in various specialties, who turned to their neighboring social science in search of useful techniques and research strategies. The wholesale borrowing of statistical methods and research designs from adjacent disciplines was a characteristic feature of the period. Political historians often turned to political science to learn techniques of analyzing voting, while social historians usually resorted to sociology and historical demography. During the 1960s, when population control was an important theme of public discussion, interest naturally arose in the causes and timing of population increase. Historical demographers not only addressed recognized social problems, but also confronted problems of missing data endemic to the historical profession. Unable to use the survey methods available to contemporary students of population, they were forced to develop a historical methodology. The development of historical demography clearly reflected different national approaches to historical analysis. French historical demographers influenced by Louis Henry remained largely descriptive, exploring the dynamics of fertility change in peasant villages. In contrast, the Princeton Fertility Project reflected the social scientific approach dominant in the United States. Princeton historical demographers were devoted adherents of modernization theory and sought to use demographic change to map the spread of modern social attitudes across Europe.


By the late 1970s, cliometrics came under attack from historians, but this was only part of a larger, general critique of social science methods and theoretical underpinnings. One of the most common criticisms was the failure of social science theory to account for agency. For social scientists including cliometricians, it was alleged, variables and not human beings caused social phenomena. Of course the disappointing results of many of the larger cliometric projects, such as the Princeton historical fertility study, only reinforced the conviction that little was to be gained by large-scale interdisciplinary projects. Some leading advocates of social science history, for example Lawrence Stone, recanted and called for a return to narrative history. Many other historians became preoccupied with human agency and turned to cultural analysis and interpretive methods as a way of getting at human purposes. At the extreme, the French philosopher and historian Jacques Rancière rejected all historical generalization as a kind of authoritarian restriction on individual action. Most historians responded to this controversy by returning to traditional topics and methods.

Attacks on logical empiricism in cliometrics were not solely the weapons of opponents of social science history. Among those interested in applying social sciences to history, the leading methodological critics of logical empiricism were "realists." Realists concentrated on the identification of explanatory mechanisms underlying social phenomena and maintained that the social sciences should not assume the burden of all-embracing explanation and search for a unifying causal analysis behind all social phenomena. Understanding the different causal forces at work was the major preoccupation of realist social scientists who argued that various models could often be usefully combined to present a more comprehensive explanation. Although there are many varieties, realist explanations tend to emphasize the study of processes rather than stable relationships or steady states. They emphasize the study of causal mechanisms and their variety tended to make precise measurement less important than it was for logical empiricists. Many social scientists turned to structured comparisons of two or a few cases. Prominent historical sociologists such as Theda Skocpol emerged who did not use quantitative methods.

Within the social sciences, realists and others have sought to develop techniques for measurement that enable them to uncover mechanisms rather than concentrating simply on measures of association. A major critique of GLM and the individualist explanations of social phenomena developed among those cliometricians and quantifiers who were involved in network analysis, sometimes styled a "relational realism." A lot of the inspiration for the development of network analysis came from the United Kingdom, where scholars such as Elizabeth Bott had underscored the importance of networks in social analysis. The development of formal methods in network analysis, however, occurred largely in the United States, where


The study of historical demography was one of the most important areas in which American social science approaches influenced European researchers. Beginning in 1963 in Princeton, the demographer Ansley J. Coale assembled a Europeanwide research team to study the "demographic transition" one of the basic paradigms of modernization theory. Coale developed basic indices to measure trends in marriage and marital fertility and nonmarital fertility from standard census material and Princeton demographers used these indices to measure fertility in major European administrative units such as French departments, Belgian arrondissements, and German administrative areas. The often used GLM to analyze the relationship between the decline in European fertility in the modern era and other regional characteristics such as secularization, industrialization, and literacy. Between 1971 and 1986, the Princeton European Fertility Project issued a series of volumes that reported on demographic change within most European nations including an overall survey of its findings published in 1986 and co-edited by Coale and Susan Cotts Watkins.

The Princeton project produced no clear answers but it did lead to a new understanding of the problems that needed to be explained. One of the established doctrines of historical demography, the "demographic transition," was revealed as a myth. Long presented as an empirical description, the theory claimed that declining mortality initially promoted rapid population growth. Individual families only slowly distinguished a permanent mortality decline from normal short-term fluctuations and, initially, most families would continue their so-called "natural fertility" in the expectation that infant and child mortality would continue to keep population stationary or only very slowly increasing. As more children survived, however, and families found themselves strapped to support an unexpectedly large number of maturing children in an increasingly competitive environment, families would abandon traditional conceptions and turn to some form of birth control. Eventually, a new demographic equilibrium was attained based on decreased mortality and fertility. Unfortunately, the systematic comparison of European mortality and fertility figures showed no evidence that mortality declines preceded fertility declines. Sometimes mortality declines preceded fertility declines, but in other periods the relationship was reversed.

The Princeton group did discover a series of sudden, sharp declines in fertility that set in during the late nineteenth century in most of Europe (during the late eighteenth century in France) that proved to be lasting; once fertility had declined precipitously it never again reached previous heights. Princeton historical demographers tended to argue that the rapid decline in birthrates corresponded to the spread of modern attitudes, but they never managed to provide reliable indicators of modernization and fertility change. Persuasive explanations of the rapid fertility decline in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries were not, however, forthcoming from Princeton.

In many ways the Princeton project revealed the strengths and weaknesses of logical empiricist social science approaches. The project was a relatively large-scale effort involving a variety of talented scholars over decades. It developed sophisticated measurement techniques that remain of considerable value. Yet the belief that the administrative divisions of European states provided relatively homogenous units in which the spread of modern attitudes from individual to individual could be traced proved illusory. With only a few exceptions, Princeton historical demographers made little effort to explore what was going on within departments, arrondissements, and other administrative areas. They did not examine how the presence of a military garrison with large numbers of unmarried males or a textile town with large numbers of single women, side by side with rural communities of small-holding peasants, might influence their findings, much less look at what was happening to selected households or individual families. When they carried out micro-studies of small units, they focused narrowly on such demographic factors as breastfeeding rather than looking at the larger cultural, social, and economic context. Coale and his collaborators were convinced that the spread of modern attitudes led to fertility control. Despite their blinkered conceptions, it is a tribute to their commitment to empirical investigation that, in the end, they admitted that their findings were largely negative.

Disappointment with the results of the Princeton project as well as the collapse of a number of other similar research efforts led to a disillusionment with quantitative social science approaches to history.

Harrison White and his students, such as Marc Granovetter, played a pivotal role in developing network analysis as method. The Toronto sociologist Barry Wellman is also an eloquent advocate. John F. Padgett and Christopher K. Ansell's use of network theory to analyze the Medici rise to power in fifteenth-century Florence presaged a new approach to historical sociology. Network analysts collected "relational data" concerning ties and connections that linked individuals to larger units and could not be reduced to individual properties. Techniques such as GLM and non-linear probability models were of only limited value for analyzing relational data. Network analysts had to develop their own techniques for identifying and comparing networks and for measuring their distance, direction, and density.

Peter S. Bearman's work on the English Civil War, Relations into Rhetorics, presents important examples of the application of network methodology, statistical methods, and theories to historical analysis. In a study that focuses on Norfolk County between 1540 and 1640, Bearman challenges the established "revisionist" orthodoxy in the study of the English Civil War, which rejects class categories or indeed almost any variety of general categories as simply too general, obscuring the complexity of interests and allegiances on all sides in these social conflicts. The revisionists emphasize instead a host of more prosaic interests—intrigues at court, the war plans of the 1620s, plain economic interest, the pressure of local and country politics, the scramble for office.

Bearman shows how network concepts can effectively respond to such objections. He concedes that "categorical" terms such as "class," "aristocrat," or "merchant" are too large and embracing for the detailed analysis of concrete events. Belonging to a category such as a class does not, as Bearman reminds us, imply a self-conscious identity or even necessarily a typical set of behaviors. Just because the entire population of a modern country can be divided into class categories does not tell us whether any important section of the population identifies itself as a class or acts in a class manner. Instead of using "categories" to analyze collective action, he proposes to use "networks" seen as the "structure of tangible social relations in which persons are embedded." In contrast with such abstractions as categories, networks are real associations of people; they may be centered on kinship ties, religion, economic interests, patronage, or other relations, and they may take a variety of forms from hierarchical to egalitarian. Categorical social terms only make sense in terms of collective action when they can validly be applied to existing social networks, Bearman argues. Without being embodied in real social relations, individuals who comprise social categories can have only very limited opportunities to engage in collective action.

Bearman's study of Norfolk County between 1540 and 1640 reveals the impressive potential in such analysis. Concentrating on elite networks within Norfolk over four approximately twenty-five-year periods, Bearman looks at the state-formation process from the local level. He shows that the state was as much drawn into local affairs by the local power vacuum as by any wish of its own to assert predominance in local affairs. Bearman suggests that the progress of proletarianization and class formation was responsible for dissolving local kin-group solidarities. Gradually, in the first half of the seventeenth century, the consolidation of landholdings and the growing convergence of economic processes made the powerful less interested in drawing on kinship ties and more inclined to participate in national politics.

But the collapse of kinship ties in the county of Norfolk preceded the integration of elites into the monarchical system. By means of appointment to parish jobs, local elites could link themselves to powerful protectors at the national level. As a result, over the period, the basis for appointment to a clerical position changed. Unfortunately for the Crown, it did not have a consistent policy in place or the resources to accommodate these potential entrants on the political scene. In the early period, appointments had been made with a view to extorting church property from the candidate as a condition for appointment; in the later period, appointments were based on the candidate's religious convictions. Religious rhetoric provided the bases for acquiring standing in national politics, acquiring allies, and winning protection at the national level.

The accomplishments of Bearman's book are methodological as well as substantive. Some of his most important conclusions are derived from his use of block modeling, a statistical technique until recently relatively little used by historical researchers, to identify and define networks. Indeed, in the historical study of seventeenth century England, issues of network have come to the fore. In many ways Bearman's use of block modeling underscores the point that our choice of methods must flow from our arguments and the logic of our underlying analyses. As historians turn more to the study of real social relations embodied in networks, they will very likely find formal methods of network analysis more productive and rewarding than GLM.

While interest in cliometrics has declined greatly over the last two decades, nevertheless, under the influence of realist approaches to the social sciences, the 1990s have produced some of the most significant works employing both a sophisticated use of statistics and social science method of any time since the 1960s. These works include John Markoff's analyses of the French cahiers de doléances and the relationship between agrarian violence and state legislation, the remarkable study of postwar Italian strikes by Roberto Franzosi, the study of English riots by John Bohstedt, the study of English crowd protest by Charles Tilly, and the examination of the origins of the German welfare state by George Steinmetz. One of the characteristic features of these works is their movement between aggregate data analysis and microanalysis of cases whose significance is underlined by the findings of aggregate analysis. Research projects have been designed to accommodate specific historical contexts, and the integration between historical research and formal methods has become more intimate.

These recent works often combine the analysis of aggregate evidence that defines larger patterns with cases studies that explore causal forces. John Bohstedt's examination of the English food riots between 1790 and 1810 employs a research design that allows him to identify and to use the best evidentiary sources that he could locate in order to construct a persuasive general argument. His studies incorporate macro and micro levels of analyses in a structured way. First, the study outlines large-scale arguments that are then compared against aggregate evidence. A look at the patterns found in the aggregate analysis serves to focus attention on the behavior of microunits such as market towns and open field villages. Next, case studies of various towns and political movements, selected according to the patterns found in the aggregate evidence are used to reinforce and to extend the original arguments. The ability to move systematically between arguments on the macro and micro levels depends both on research design and on willingness to use primary sources.

Bohstedt's study looks at the way in which communities influenced food riots in the era of the Napoleonic Wars, and his strong research design, geared toward effective use of primary sources safeguards against the tendency to allow established models to dictate the course of research. Scholars such as E. P. Thompson have suggested that food riots were a response to the intrusion of commercialism in a preindustrial "moral economy," while others have argued that high corn prices produced discontent. Bohstedt's presentation of data from contemporary newspapers and Home Office files supplemented by a systematic examination of the geographic incidence of food riots by county shows that neither relationship provides much explanatory power. Although hard-pressed by high prices and commercialism, neither the agrarian countryside nor London produced many food riots; however, such riots were endemic in regions dominated by small market towns, and some well-known riots occurred in emerging industrial cities.

Bohstedt's macro-evidence allows him to identify some important variations whose significance he pursues in detail at the micro level, examining two cases from areas where food riots did occur. He argues that community structure was fundamental to the character of riots. In areas with many small market towns such as Devonshire, the food riot was a bargaining process used as a popular protest against town-dwelling merchants that often persuaded farmers to lower the price of grain. But looking at the growth of large cities in Lancashire such as Manchester, he found that a Devonshire-type food riot was impossible there. No single marketplace existed, and rioters who lacked personal contact with merchants and landlord were unable to win concessions. In Manchester, the food riot was regarded as a disorderly protest and repressed. In the largely rural counties of England and Wales populated by village dwellers, the "food riot" was also impossible. The riot was a direct challenge to farmers who could easily retaliate against protesters familiar to them.

What is most remarkable about recent research in cliometrics has been the combination of a variety of approaches to history, both quantitative (or social scientific) and narrative, in a systematic way. Quantitative methods have been used to identify larger patterns and cases studies used to explore causal relationships within the patterns identified by quantitative analysis. Thus, the sharp dichotomy between quantitative and qualitative analysis so prevalent in the debates of the 1960s and 1970s has been rendered largely obsolete. The quality of recent works in cliometric history and the importance of their findings surely argues that they will not remain permanently out of Clio's favor.


While cliometrics made great progress in the 1950s and 1960s, the turn to quantification was still broader and more inclusive. A variety of historical investigators turned to quantitative methods as the only way to use important historical records. Many quantitative historical investigators did not necessarily see themselves as "testing" social science propositions but as seeking to understand a particular historical phenomenon such as the European fertility decline. They viewed themselves as pursuing traditional historical goals and using quantitative methods only because the natures of their sources required it. In the 1960s and 1970s a sharp and clear distinction existed between cliometricians who used social science methods and quantification and those historians who used quantification but rejected logical-empiricist social-science methods. In the 1980s and 1990s, as social science oriented historians abandoned logical empiricism and many quantitative historians became more analytical, the distinction became less clear.

Inspired by the pioneering work of the economic historian François Simiand, French scholars were often in the forefront of the preparation and use of quantitative measures. The efforts of Ernest Labrousse to relate changes in the price of bread to eighteenth-century social protest depended on the gathering of both long and short term data on historical price fluctuations. Georges Lefebvre's work on the French Revolution was based on the systematic analysis of tax records. At the same time, the work of the most prestigious member of the Annales school, Fernand Braudel, relied heavily on comparative statistical material; all his life, Braudel remained a voracious consumer of statistical data. The efforts to define long-term patterns in history seemed to require the assembling of statistical documentation. Emmanuel Le Roy Ladurie's classic work on the peasants of Languedoc depended on property records, and Yves Lequin's magisterial study of the working class of the Lyonnais was based on census material and demographic methods.

One of the most important European developments in this regard was the process of "family reconstitution" originated by Louis Henry in France in the 1950s. Essentially, Henry used parish registers of births, deaths, and marriages to "reconstitute" the population of French villages over relatively long periods of time and to derive basic estimates of fertility and mortality. Most of the efforts of Henry and his collaborators focused on small villages because researchers spent a great deal of time per family in preparing their estimates and also because migration posed serious problems; the presence of large numbers of single individuals or migrant married couples could lead to serious exaggerations. Small villages, it was assumed, would have less of these than larger communities.

Family reconstitution was the foundation of one of the most important historically oriented quantitative research projects of the 1960s and 1970s, the Cambridge Group for the History of Population and Social Structure. Some of the most prominent members of the group were Peter Laslett, R. S. Schofield, Richard Wall, and E. A. Wrigley. Unlike many research projects oriented towards quantitative research, the Cambridge group was fortunate to find in Peter Laslett not only a sophisticated demographer but a gifted popular exponent of quantitative historical research. In the English-speaking world his book, The World We Have Lost, remains a classic defense of social history and the quantitative methods on which it was based. That it has so few rivals in its field helps explain the relative decline of quantitative history. Quantitative historians employed techniques that were not readily understandable to most historians, much less the wider reading public. Too often, the temptation to employ pretentious jargon proved irresistible and ultimately brought discredit on the entire field.

While the Cambridge group generated considerable attention and produced important works on family structure, nonmarital fertility, and social structure, its single most important product was E. A. Wrigley and Roger Schofield's attempt to estimate English population trends between 1541 and 1871, and the efforts of the Institut National des Études Démographiques (INED) to estimate French population trends in the past. The great contribution of the Wrigley and Schofield book was to entirely reframe the question of fertility change. Instead of presuming a "natural fertility" that had remained almost constant right up to the fertility decline of the nineteenth century, Wrigley and Schofield showed long periods of fertility decline followed by periods of fertility increase. Their work seemed to rule out the possibility that fertility decline could be uniquely linked to modernity, and it drew attention to long-term processes of historical change.

Another area in which quantitative history made great strides in the 1960s and 1970s and continued to make important strides in the 1980s and 1990s was in the study of popular politics. One of the interesting developments in this field was that as their statistical methods became more sophisticated, students of collective action began to move in the same direction as network theorists, away from general universal explanations and towards locating theoretically interesting relationships within precisely historical contexts. In this area quantitative historians often benefited from the work of historical sociologists such as Charles Tilly or, later, Sidney Tarrow but often addressed their studies to fellow historians concerned with more single-mindedly historical issues. This work on collective action challenges the seemingly invincible conviction of many historians that quantitative analysis is necessarily biased in favor of the status quo or established ideas. Studies such as the recent work of John Markoff show that quantitative analysis can be a powerful critical tool.

John Markoff's study of protest and agrarian revolution, The Abolition of Feudalism, represents a most important contribution to this literature, challenging central assumptions of revisionist historiography and proposing an important new perspective on the French Revolution. Belying revisionist claims that bourgeois and noble had grown alike in the years before 1789, he demonstrates substantial differences in approach to economic and social problems on the part of different elites; class differences remained important and were to prove crucial over the course of the revolution. More important than this concession to orthodoxy, however, is Markoff's exploration of the dialogic relationship between politicians and protesters between 1789 and 1794. Due credit is given to the anti-feudal discourse of the National Assembly in giving direction to agrarian protest, but the rooting up of the feudal regime only began with such sloganeering; waves of peasant protests in 1790 and 1793 successfully pressured legislators to make good on their promises. Older historiography showed peasant protest as the mobilization of preexisting agrarian interests. Markoff analyzes how peasant interests reconfigured themselves to take advantage of the political opportunities opened to them by the revolutionary legislature. His is a grand study of revolutionary process.

But Markoff's study is also remarkable in its attention to language and its analysis of the reforms that different groups proposed. Its power rests on the exploitation of three major sources using quantitative methods. The first, a major scholarly accomplishment, is the machine-readable sample of the cahiers de doléances assembled by Markoff in collaboration with Gilbert Shapiro and others at the University of Pittsburgh. These cahiers were reports from more than forty thousand meetings of noblemen, clergymen, and the Third Estate held in the spring of 1789 throughout France. They provide a view of what some important groups demanded on the eve of a revolution. The second important source assembled by Markoff is a collection of some 4,700 rural-centered protests between the summer of 1788 and 1793, allowing a comparison of protestors' demands with the list of reforms articulated in 1789 to see how they evolved over time. Third is the data collected by Jean Nicolas and Guy Lemarchand on rural protest between 1661 and 1789, which enabled Markoff to compare patterns of pre-revolutionary and revolutionary agrarian protest.

Unlike previous work on the cahiers, Markoff's study compares the demands articulated by each estate as well as the work of the parish assemblies. Nobles emphasized civil liberties and seldom used the language of hierarchy and divine entitlement, but rather stressed that their seignorial rights were a form of property and tended to portray the nobility as a body of equals rather than an ordered hierarchy. As a body, the Third Estate called for the abolition of status privileges and market impediments. It condemned the nobility's monopoly of military commissions, the heavy tax on noble land sold to commoners and the nobles' privileged legal access as well as seignorial monopolies, their right to tolls and the corvée. Focusing on the demands of village assemblies, a subset of the Third Estate's demands reveal that peasants did not frame their demands in the discourse beloved of intellectual historians; without denouncing "feudalism," they reveal systematic hostility to clerical and seignorial privilege. With regard to the clergy, they opposed the tithe, particularly its variability and accrual to tithe-holders, as well as charges for the major rituals of peasant life. With respect to nobility, they demanded the abolition of privileged dovecotes, rabbit warrens and fishponds, hunting rights, and such periodic dues as well as the end of monopolies, particularly oven and milling monopolies, although they were willing to see some reform of seignorial courts. Interestingly, peasants were not happy about taxes, but except for such indirect taxes as the salt taxes and town duties, they called for reform rather than abolition. Evidently after centuries of defying state taxation, peasant communities had come to accept the state's right to tax, albeit in a more just form.

The most exciting and truly revolutionary aspect of Markoff's work is his examination of the evolution of peasants' demands and legislative responses during the years of revolution itself, revealing a dialogic relationship between peasant protestors and legislators, in which politicians responded to protest and in so doing also shaped its character. Revolutionary legislators responded to outbreaks of peasant rebellion by increasingly radical agrarian legislation. In turn, peasants learned that legislators were willing to grant them concessions in some areas and not in others.

This study is even more interesting concerning the seignorial regime itself. While peasants may not have possessed a generalized vocabulary for describing the landed regime, they still had a relatively coherent view of what they wanted changed and abolished that amounted to a thoroughgoing reform. Markoff sides with those who portray the celebrated "abolition of the feudal system" on the night of 4 August 1789 as propaganda for mild reforms that took back almost as much as they gave. Yet Markoff shows that the adoption of antifeudal rhetoric by legislators was to have important costs in excess of its intended mild reforms, for it pointed out a direction for discontented peasants. Subsequent waves of peasant unrest would lead to legislation in March 1790, August 1792, and July 1793 that cumulatively abolished feudalism root and branch.

Markoff 's work represents a major challenge to all efforts to portray the French Revolution as having relatively feeble social consequences or as devoid of genuinely social conflict. The strength of his argument depends on his use of extremely large bodies of evidence, in his case principally the cahiers, which can hardly be exploited in any other way than by sample and by statistical analysis. Indeed, Markoff demonstrates the extremely misleading character of many uses of the cahiers based on selective and narrow readings of very small sections. Although Markoff uses quantification and a clever research design, his major task is to evaluate existing historical analyses of the French Revolution rather than to test or fashion a general theory of social revolution or political mobilization. By the 1990s both a sociologist such as John Markoff and a historian such as John Bohstedt employed sophisticated research designs and quantitative methods to address essentially historical questions. The distinction between cliometrics and quantification, so clear at the beginning of our period, was eroding as social scientists acquired a new respect for historicity and historians paid more attention to research design and sophisticated quantitative methods.

By the 1990s quantitative techniques were often consigned to a niche within the historical profession. Demographic historians, family historians, and econometric economic historians continued to play an important role within their fields but had relatively little influence on adjacent areas of study. Econometric economic history embraced the individualist assumptions of traditional economics and tended to establish itself in economics departments. While some of the most rigorous justifications for cliometrics and quantification disappeared with the ebb of logical empiricism, new approaches to the social sciences developed, such as relational realism, that still employed sophisticated research designs and formal methods. New approaches to social science method eliminated many of the dichotomies that had divided social scientists from historians in the 1960s and 1970s. The Markoff study reminds us of the many existing historical sources that can only be fully exploited with quantitative methods. Tempered in adversity, a new cliometrics and quantification emerged in the 1980s and 1990s. More rooted in historical analysis, capable of moving between micro and macro history, they focused not simply on the analysis of individual properties, but also on the study of relations.

See alsoModernization; The Population of Europe: Early Modern Demographic Patterns; The Population of Europe: The Demographic Transition and After (volume 2); and other articles in this section.



Abbott, Andrew. "From Causes to Events, Notes on Narrative Positivism." Sociological Methods and Research 20 (1992): 428–455.

Abbott, Andrew. "Transcending General Linear Reality." Sociological Theory 6(Autumn 1988): 169–186.

Bearman, Peter S. Relations into Rhetorics: Local Elite Social Structure in Norfolk, England, 1540–1640. New Brunswick, N.J., 1993.

Bhaskar, Roy. Reclaiming Reality: A Critical Introduction to Contemporary Philosophy. London, 1989.

Bohstedt, John. Riots and Community Politics in England and Wales, 1790–1810. Cambridge, Mass., 1983.

Bott, Elizabeth. Family and Social Network: Roles, Norms, and External Relationships in Ordinary Urban Families. London, 1957.

Callincos, Alex. Making History: Agency, Structure, and Change in Social Theory. Ithaca, N.Y., 1988.

Coale, Ansley J., and Susan Cotts Watkins., eds. The Decline of Fertility in Europe: The Revised Proceedings of a Conference on the Princeton European Fertility Project. Princeton, N.J., 1986.

Fogel, Robert William, and G. R. Elton, Which Road to the Past? Two Views of History. New Haven, Conn., 1983.

Franzosi, Roberto. The Puzzle of Strikes: Class and State Strategies in Postwar Italy. Cambridge, U.K., 1995.

Granovetter, Mark. "The Strength of Weak Ties: A Network Theory Revisited." In Peter Marsden and Nan Lin, eds. Social Networks and Social Structure. Beverly Hills, Calif., 1982. Pages 105–130.

Griffin, Larry J., and Marcel van der Linden. eds. New Methods for Social History. Cambridge, U.K., and New York, 1999.

Knodel, John E. The Decline of Fertility in Germany, 1871–1939. Princeton, N.J., 1974.

Lesthaeghe, Ron J. The Decline of Belgian Fertility, 1800–1970. Princeton, N.J., 1977.

Livi-Bacci, Massimo. A History of Italian Fertility during the Last Two Centuries. Princeton, N.J., 1977.

Lloyd, Christopher. Explanation in Social History. Oxford, 1986.

Lowen, Rebecca S. Creating the Cold War University: The Transformation of Stanford. Berkeley, Calif., 1997.

Manicas, Peter T. A History and Philosophy of the Social Sciences. Oxford, 1987. Monkkonen, Eric H. Engaging the Past: The Uses of History across the Social Sciences. Durham, N.C., 1994.

Novick, Peter. That Noble Dream: The "Objectivity Question" and the American Historical Profession. Cambridge, U.K., 1988.

Popper, Karl R. The Poverty of Historicism. New York, 1961.

Rancière, Jacques. The Names of History: On the Poetics of Knowledge. Translated by Hassan Melehy. Minneapolis, Minn., 1994.

Scott, John. Social Network Analysis: A Handbook. London, 1991.

Skocpol, Theda. States and Social Revolutions: A Comparative Analysis of France, Russia and China. Cambridge, U.K., and New York, 1979.

Steinmetz, George. Regulating the Social: The Welfare State and Local Politics in Imperial Germany. Princeton, N.J., 1993.

Tilly, Charles. Popular Contention in Great Britain, 1758–1834. Cambridge, Mass., 1995.


Gautier, Étienne, and Louis Henry. La Population de Crulai, paroisse Normande: Étude historique. Paris, 1958.

Gillis, John R., Louise A. Tilly, and David Levine, eds. The European Experience of Declining Fertility: The Quiet Revolution 1850–1970. Oxford, 1992.

Labrousse, Ernest. Esquisse du mouvement des prix et des revenus en France au XVIIIe siècle. Paris, 1933.

Laslett, Peter. The World We Have Lost. New York, 1965.

Laslett, Peter, ed. Household and Family in Past Time: Comparative Studies in the Size and Structure of the Domestic Group over the Last Three Centuries in England, France, Serbia, Japan, and Colonial North America, with Further Materials from Western Europe. Cambridge, U.K., 1972.

Lefebvre, G. Etudes Orléanaises. 2 vols. Paris, 1962, 1963.

Lequin, Yves. Les ouvriers de la région lyonnaise (1848–1914). 2 vols. Lyon, France, 1977.

Le Roy Ladurie, Emmanuel. Les paysans de Languedoc. 2 vols. Paris, 1966.

Markoff, John. The Abolition of Feudalism: Peasants, Lords, and Legislators in the French Revolution. University Park, Pa., 1996.

Stone, Lawrence. "The Revival of the Narrative." Past and Present 85 (1979).

Wrigley, E. A., and R. S. Schofield. The Population History of England, 1541–1871: A Reconstruction. Berkeley, Calif., 1997.