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HSR Trans 3: Bibliography: Formal Methods in History

Thomas Rahlf: The Application of Formal Methods in History. A Selected Bibliography. HSR Trans 3 (2000).


The bibliography

The bibliography records printed items (articles, books, edited books, book sections) which employ formal methods to history. What are methods? What are formal methods? "Methods" means all systematic and rule-based procedures; "formal methods" are methods, which use unequivocal symbols and mathematical calculus, i.e. mathematics and logic. In reference to history this means: all methods of statistics and information science dealing with the processes of storing and transferring information, or, put differently: 1. the use of quantitative methods in history and 2. historical computing. The last scope also includes both numerical and non-numerical analysis like database-design, text retrieval or the conceptualization of electronic text editions.

Compiled titles

The application of formal methods to history has a long standing tradition. Beginning in the 50's, the number of applications grew continually year by year reaching a first climax at the beginning of the 60's, when protagonistst claimed to overcome "traditional" history by using formal methods. A lot of programmatic articles and discussions document this attempt to change a "paradigm". Several years later a whole series of associations in different subdisciplines was founded: the Social Science History Association (founded 1976), the Arbeitsgemeinschaft für Quantifizierung und Methoden in der sozialwissenschaftlichen Forschung (1976), the Cliometric Society (1983); the Association for Computers and the Humanities (1978) or the Association for History and Computing (1986). All these associations have regularly held conferences and published proceedings. Also several periodicals have appeared, providing numerous examples for the application of formal methods and/or the use of computers to history: Explorations in Economic History (founded 1969); The Journal of Interdisciplinary History (1970); Social Science History. The Official Organ of the Social Science History Association (1976); Historical Social Research / Historische Sozialforschung. An International Journal for the Application of Formal Methods to History (1976); Historical Methods. A Journal of Quantitative and Interdisciplinary History (1978), Histoire et Mesure (1986), Revue. Informatique et Statistique dans les Sciences Humaines (1964); Computers and the Humanities. The Official Journal of The Association for Computers and the Humanities (1966); Le Médiéviste et l'ordinateur (1979) or History and Computing (1989). And last but not least, numerous studies which apply formal methods to various fields of history have been published elsewhere (articles and books).

Nevertheless there is a systematic bibliographic overview lack, recording all these titles. Thus, the aim of this bibliography is firstly to give an overview: what has been done in the field of "formal history"? Which themes have been studied? What has been achieved? Secondly, the bibliography should be a research guide: you should be able to see, whether a specific problem has already been treated, there exists a description of a computer program, there are similar or comparable statistical studies to your own for other regions etc. Meanwhile a lot of questions like the above could be answered equally well (or even better) by Internet resources. Nevertheless: there is still a huge amount of information in these printed publications, which is still useful in the Internet age, not only for historical reasons.


All items are (preliminary) classified in several "big" sections. First of all you will find listings of all important journals, series, edited books, text books, research guides (which are dedicated to the application of formal methods), data archives, and teaching/formal methods as historical discipline. This classification scheme is quite obvious. The following categories are perhaps a little bit arbitrary. An obvious categorization in history is always a classification by time, so you will find sections for the main periods: general (no specific time period or covering a very long period), medieval, early modern, modern, contemporary. On the other hand, there should also be a systematic classification by "orientation". In this case orientation means that the publication is rather a demonstration of using a specific software rather the usage of specific methods. On the other hand there are a lot of titles which mainly describe several sources and their handling without reference to a specific method or software. So I decided to choose three subgroups: quantification, computing, and the description and/or treatment of sources. Also this categorization is often arbitrary, nevertheless useful, and was done mostly pragmatic. Together with the above mentioned chronological division the result is a list of further 15 sections. Finally there is a category "text editing", listing titles dedicated to formal analysis of texts and non-numerical computing as far as they are not already included in the above sections. This category has yet to be differentiated. There is a last category "Still to be classified" which will become smaller and smaller from revision to revision and will of course disappear in the printed version.

The titles are further subdivided both systematically (1. General, 2. Politics, 3. Economics, 4. Social history, 5. Law and Crime, 6. Demography, 7. Various) and geographically (a. General, b. German speaking countries, c. England, d. France, e. USA, f. Other).

⇒ Update 2014: The bibliography has now been published: HSR Supplement 16.

The dataset on which the bibliography is based, can be downloaded here in RIS-Format.