Whither Quantitative History?: A Review of Some Recent Work in the Economic and Social History of Education

Document Type


Publication Date

Spring 1981


Taylor & Francis Group


The recent appearance of two books, both dealing with the relationships between education and economic and social structure in parts of nineteenth-century North America and both claiming to be examples of quantitative social science history (an appellation to which more attention will be given below) gives us an opportunity not only to assess their merits relative to each other, but also to pose, by implication, some general questions about the future of research conducted within this mold. We are now emerging from a period in which empirical and analytical techniques developed by social scientists for the analysis of contemporary data have percolated through and to other subdiscipline and disciplines. Affecting economic history first, winds of change subsequently invaded more methodologically traditionalist departments, where they have given rise to a flurry of unimaginative but genuine neologisms: the New Urban History, the New Family History, the New Social History, even the New Political History. At the same time, techniques and concerns associated with the practice of demography, a discipline which although quantitative from its inception and by its very nature has not (at least in the United States) been firmly rooted in any one academic or departmental structure, have exercised an independent influence on historically oriented researchers in various departments.