Which Road to the Past?

G.R. Elton and R.W. Fogel intervene in the vital current debate of historians: are there two separate species of history, scientific and traditional?

Although seeking historical truth may not be as clear-cut a journey as Dorothy's trek to Oz, a fork in the road has emerged that has historians – and those who read history – barking as noisily as the mindful Toto. For where once the 'historical method' implied a rigorous investigation of the documents and the application of an open, subjective mind to reconstruct the past, a new approach has undermined the notion that history was an art that could not be reduced to scientific analysis. Born of the computer age, this new 'scientific' history, with its practitioners often referred to as cliometricians , seeks both to reduce the human error involved in rediscovering the past from historical documents, and to subject such evidence to statistical analysis on a par with the social sciences.

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