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Quantitative Methods for Historical Data Analysis

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The use of quantitative methods for historical data analysis has become popularized by demographers, sociologists, social science historians, and economic historians since the Economic History Association and the National Bureau of Economic Research conference on income and wealthy in 1957.[1] In the past six decades, with the rapid development of computer information system and prevailing global Internet, quantitative analysis is gradually drawing history research closer to science and helps intensify people's understanding of history.

The first historical study that utilizes the quantitative analysis of historical data is Emily Erikson's, "Malfeasance and the Foundations for Global Trade: The Structure of English Trade in the East Indies, 1601-1833."[2] In their 2006 article, Erikson and Bearman analyze that the growth and the global trade network of East India Company (EIC), 1601 to 1833, is mainly ascribed not to the entrepreneurial power of the company but to that its individual agents acting in their own self-interest, often at the expense of the EIC.

To investigate the practices of individual malfeasance, Erikson and Bearman use data based on the sufficient data of 4,572 voyages taken by EIC including the records of ships, ship logs, journals, ports, voyage schedules, ledgers, individual and corporate correspondences, financial records and books, receipts, registers of cargo, personnel, and armaments. Data from The Catalogue of the East India Company's Ships' Journals and Logs, 1600-1834 and The Biographical index of East India Company maritime service officers: 1600-1834 are used to demonstrate the carrying capacity of the EIC and the ports involved in the trade network.[3] Evidence reveals that the EIC management created opportunities for the private traders that were involved in malfeasance and for the relationship between EIC and the private traders. Evidence also shows how EIC management identified the private traders, the captains on the ships, and who used company resources to conduct private trades for personal profits. In addition to the impacts on economics, the history of malfeasance can be associated with social, cultural, and political factors.

By using this data, Erikson and Bearman trace EIC trade from its early access to the Silk Road to the crossing of the Indian Ocean and discovering of an all-water route to Asia.[4] Through the examination of individual ships port visits, Erikson and Bearman are able to develop a thesis that argues the personal ambitions of ships captains indirectly led to a more developed globalized trade network.

The second historical study that utilize the quantitative analysis of historical data is Tyler Anbinder's "Moving beyond "Rags to Riches": New York's Irish Famine Immigrants and Their Surprising Savings Accounts" (Anbinder 2012). In his 2012 article, Anbinder examines the financial conditions of New York Irish immigrant community in the nineteenth century. Rather than rely solely on the correspondences, employment records, and estimated assets, Anbinder uses a resource newly available to historians as of his writing: the Irish immigrants' saving accounts at the Emigrant Saving Bank. [5] Anbinder challenges the long-held beliefs of many historians that Irish immigrants, particularly the Famine immigrants, were "desperately poor…. Widely despised, and often subsisting on the bare edge of starvation."[6] He argues that the Irish immigrants' communities had optimistic chance of success based on the amount of money in their saving accounts.[7]

To examine the savings of New York's Irish famine immigrants, Anbinder and his students conducted a research study by creating a database of nine hundred depositors (both immigrants and non-immigrants).[8] These were randomly chosen from among the first 18,000 accounts opened at the bank. Important factors examined include date of arrival in America, occupational distribution, and immigrants' economic backgrounds in Ireland.[9] Anbinder argues the findings that the saving figures were underestimated the immigrants' true net worth because of an overlook of immigrants' additional accounts, remittances to the family in Ireland, other kinds of assets (real estate, business investments, personal property), and the actual financial resources.[10] Based on evidence, Anbinder acknowledges how the famine-era immigrant saved money from an unskilled job to a more profit-making category, own business, and/or using political connections to get higher-paying occupations.

Anbinder illustrates a portrait of New York Irish immigrants using quantitative analysis of their bank records to draw out simple and independent indicators is radically different from his colleagues. In addressing his peers in eth field, Anbinder states that it is the historians' responsibly "to discard entirely the rags-to-riches paradigm… and instead reconceptualize how we think about immigrant economic achievement in America."[11] He urges historians to "look more at savings rather than these other measures of economic achievement. Saving is much more accurate measure of economic accomplishment, and the data is available, waiting to be explored. But it needs to be exploited soon because the records are quickly disappearing."[12]

The third historical study that utilizes the quantitative analysis of historical data is the third chapter of Susie Pak's "Gentlemen Bankers: The World of J. P. Morgan." In her book, Pak examines the inner working of the private banking sectors from the perspective of J. P. Morgan & Co. Pak's approach differs from other studies of the private bankers to compartmentalize their lives into economic, business, and social circles. Studying these circles, Pak argues, is problematic in that it obscures the context in which social choice and business decisions were made and instead, call for an integrated approach. Rather than writing a biography of the Morgans, Pak takes "a broad view of the Morgan's relationships, combining and drawing on the studies of the Morgans' social and business relations that have come before it."[13] She focuses on "a history of their network, meaning it studies their relationships and how they were organized."[14] In addition to broadening the parameters of the study, Pak uses quantitative methods to analyze historical data that helps verify some facts with results that have been mixed.

In the third chapter of the book, Gentlemen Bankers, Pak examines the relationships between J.P. Morgan & Co. and the Jewish banking family of Kuhn, Leob & Co.[15] She argues that religion led to the rise of Jewish firms and influenced the social clubs to which certain successful bankers and lawyers belonged. To investigate how the White Anglo-Saxon Protestants (WASPs) and German-Jewish bankers were able to build trust and work together under the hostile anti-Semitism in America, Pak analyzes Morgans' appointment books, social club ledgers, and patterns of residence within the neighbors as well as the syndicate partners'. She points out the structural and historical similarities were existed between Jewish and Yankee bankers, such as an unlimited liability private partnership, strong connections with European economic networks, shared multiple kinship ties and family marriages.[16] She also argues that social separation significantly existed because of the cultural, religious differences, language barriers, and other historical trends.[17] Starting in the nineteenth century, discrimination against the Jewish among Anglo-Americans occurred in institutions of higher learning and high society.[18] Pak illustrates that Morgan and Jewish did not reside or congregate within the same social clubs or fraternities. However, in the "nine to five relationship" that while Jewish and non-Jewish bankers were able to maintain their connection in downtown during the working hours, and yet the partners' residences in uptown New York remained separated.[19] Pak also points out not only anti-Semitism existed between Jewish and non-Jewish bankers, racial and gender discrimination against non-white immigrants and women was not usual in the financial world during the time.[20]

Pak's integrated approach analyzing the appointment books, social club ledgers, and the patterns of residence within the neighbors and the syndicate partners helps interpret and analyze historical evidence more effectively.


[1] North, Douglass C. "Cliometrics-40 Years Later." The American Economic Review, 1977: 412-414Two presentations by Alfred Conrad and John Meyer analyzing the history of the economies of U.S. and Canada in quantitative terms, on methodology (1957) and on the economics of slavery (1958), see also Conrad, A. H. and Meyer, J. R. "Economic Theory, Statistical Inference and Economic History," Journal of Economic History 17:4 (Dec. 1957): 524-44: Conrad, A. H. and Meyer, J. R. "The Economics of Slavery in the Antebellum South." Journal of Political Economy 66:2 (April 1958): 95-130.

[2] Erikson, Emily. "Malfeasance and the Foundations for Global Trade: The Structure of English Trade in the East Indies, 1601-1833." The American Journal of Sociology, 2006: 195-230.

[3] Ibid. 207

[4] Ibid. 200

[5] Tyler Anbnder, "Moving beyond "Rags to Riches": New York's Irish Famine Immigrants and Their Surprising Savings Accounts," Journal of American History 99, no. 3 (2012): 743

[6] 4 Oscar Handlin, Boston's Immigrants: A Study in Acculturation (1941; Cambridge, Mass., 1991), 69, 55; Kerby A. Miller, Emigrants and Exiles: Ireland and the Irish Exodus to North America (New York, 1985), 314-16, 321-22; Donald Harman Akenson, The Irish Diaspora: A Primer (Toronto, 1993), 236-44; Kevin Kenny, "Twenty Years of Irish American Historiography," Journal of American Ethnic History, 28 (Summer 2009), 67-69; Kenneth A. Scherzer, "Immigrant Social Mobility and the Historian," in A Companion to American Immigration, ed. Reed Ueda (Malden, 2006), 374; Edward Ayers et al., American Passages: A History of the United States (Fort Worth, 2000), 397.

[7] Tyler Anbnder, "Moving beyond "Rags to Riches": New York's Irish Famine Immigrants and Their Surprising Savings Accounts," Journal of American History 99, no. 3 (2012): 743

[8] Ibid. 747

[9] Ibid.

[10] Ibid. 751

[11] Tyler Anbnder, "Moving beyond "Rags to Riches": New York's Irish Famine Immigrants and Their Surprising Savings Accounts," Journal of American History 99, no. 3 (2012): 743

[12] Ibid. 769

[13] Susie J. Pak, Gentlemen Bankers: The world of J.P. Morgan (Cambridge, MA: Harvard Unversity Press, 2013): 4

[14] Ibid.

[15] Chapter three: Anti-Semitism in Economic Network, 81-106

[16] Susie J. Pak, Gentlemen Bankers: The world of J.P. Morgan (Cambridge, MA: Harvard Unversity Press, 2013): 80-82

[17] Ibid. 86 The refusal of Joseph Seligman, "to the Grand Union Hotel in Saratoga, New York, on the grounds that they were Jewish or to use the term of the hotel, 'Israelites,'"

[18] Susie J. Pak, Gentlemen Bankers: The world of J.P. Morgan (Cambridge, MA: Harvard Unversity Press, 2013): 95

[19] Ibid. 85

[20] Ibid. 103-106


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