Historical Social Research

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Manfred Thaller: Von der Mißverständlichkeit des Selbstverständlichen. Beobachtungen zur Diskussion über die Nützlichkeit formaler Verfahren in der Geschichtswissenschaft [1992] [Abstract]

Starting at the very end of the seventies a wave of criticism against quantitative studies can be observed. This, however, is not really directed against the quantitative methods, but part of a larger change of focus in History, which emphasizes an alleged contradiction between historical (as part of the Humanities) and the hard sciences. The paper refutes this position along two lines. Many of the alleged shortcomings of studies based on quantitative methods – as well as other methods requiring information technology – can be observed also in traditional historical research. Studies applying information technology find it much harder, though, to hide these shortcomings. More positive is another perspective: the kind of critique appearing now can be traced to difficulties in handling new types of historical sources, which became accessible recently – and can be handled only, if information technology is employed properly. This goes together with a decrease of the interest in general methodological reflection of historical sources as an intellectual domain. The historical disciplines should react to this do in this situation by a change of perspective. Historical methods emphasized so far the need to extract historical knowledge in situations where a lack of sources existed. Nowadays we need a methodology for deriving secured historical knowledge in situations where the problem is orientation within confusing and overwhelming masses of such sources.

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