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Produced in association with Visible Knowledge Project


Put simply, quantitative history is history that involves the use of numeric data—or other evidence that can be counted—as a primary source for analysis and interpretation.

Quantitative history comes in many shapes and sizes. Some quantitative studies focus on small groups of people; others encompass huge populations. Some quantitative studies use data originally collected in numeric form, such as tax assessments or business ledgers; others involve the conversion of non-numeric evidence, such as city directories or church membership lists, into numeric form as a first step of analysis. Some quantitative studies employ rudimentary mathematical techniques (such as addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division) to analyze numeric data; others make use of highly sophisticated statistical procedures and mathematical model-building based on complex theoretical assumptions.

This guide aims to provide a good sense of what quantitative historians do and why they do it, but it does not pretend to offer instruction in upper-level statistics. The hope is that you will gain a basic comfort level with quantitative methods, which will in turn allow you to use numeric sources in your own historical research just as you would use other kinds of sources, such as letters, photographs, and newspaper articles.