E-history (continued)

Is “e-history” just relevant for very recent times, and leading “naturally” to a narrow interest in quantities and prices? Not so!

(OK, this is a very unfair reading of Loic’s comments on my last post. Still, the video is interesting and illustrates how “e-history” is not just about crunching numbers, as the repetitive comparisons with cliometrics would suggest).

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2 thoughts on “E-history (continued)

  1. Are you kidding, Clément? How do you think they make this nice graphics? They create one dot for the place where each letter went, then links it to where Voltaire was when he sent and that’s it. Numbers.

    Moreover, Claire Lemercier presented a paper I think 5 or 6 years ago on the use fo network analysis in history in Cachan and she says something like: watch out for the way these graphics looks like, from a given set of network data, you can program very different kinds of graphics. It is the numbers that really counts not the way we made them look like.
    Again, I am not saying it is not useful: I am myself trying to produce numbers we can crunch in the economic history project I have with Guillaume Daudin and I belive it would be extremely useful to have them. What I am saying is I do not believe that it is changing the nature of history and historical knowledge. 60 years ago Braudel and other economic historians were collecting prices data to create the longest series possible, they crunch it with simple graphical technique and moving averages which was considered at the time as the best (and most scientific) tool, and then came the first computers and people began to use regression and correlation techniques, and then came IT and everybody is crazy about network analysis. So to make a final point, I am not saying it ain’t useful, I am saying that history makes me wonder whether it will really change the rules of the academic/scientific game of history (including history of economics).

  2. The question isn’t whether it will change history, but whether it will change the nature of the questions we historians ask, and help us write better history. (Clement might say that if we ask different questions, we get different history, and so we’ve changed history. I don’t quite agree, but that’s okay.) Of course, in an age of data, we like cool displays of statistics and networks. And it’s always possible that some of us will end up writing worse histories (for the same reason that we think people who treat texts in isolation write bad history!).

    So we might not learn fundamentally more about Voltaire’s ideas, but we might begin to examine more the interconnectivity of writers, and the transmission of ideas across national boundaries.

    On this particular network, I was instantly struck by how similar it probably looks to the flows of financial market information in Europe at the time. If we constructed a similar network analysis showing transmissions of market price changes, would it look a lot like this? I think it would.

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