Sociology | Topics in Qualitative Methods
S652 | 4158 | Walters


Topic:  Comparative Historical Methods

This course is designed to acquaint students with issues they will
have to confront in designing and carrying out historical research
projects. It presumes that good historical sociology does not follow
from simply applying to historical data or evidence the
methodological approaches commonly used in studies of the present.
That is, a range of further considerations come into play when one is
trying to understand historical processes or events.

We will explore the challenges and problems that are specific to
historical research through two means: an explicit consideration
of "methods," including how to incorporate time into our analyses,
how to deal with uniqueness, the role of explanation, units of
analysis, case selection, how to construct comparisons, how to
assemble and evaluate evidence, and the like; and a discussion and
critique of various examples of historical research. We will focus
primarily on the logic of analysis in our discussions.

Historical sociology is, almost by definition, an interdisciplinary
enterprise. But disciplinary boundaries still exist. We will discuss
these boundaries, and later in the course we will compare explicitly
the work of pairs of historians and sociologists on the same topic or
similar topics.

Much of the work of the "founders" of sociology in the late 19th and
early 20th centuries was historical. For most of the first half of
this century, however, the dominant mode of theorizing and type of
research in American sociology was anti-historical. This is best
exemplified by the attempts of Talcott Parsons and others to develop
grand theories and universal laws, and identify the properties of
social systems. Beginning in the 1950s and early 1960s, historical
sociology began a resurgence; by the 1980s, historical sociology was
firmly institutionalized within the discipline of sociology (as
evidenced, e.g., in the formation of the Comparative Historical
Section of the American Sociological Association and the relatively
large proportion of articles dealing with historical subject matter
appearing in the major journals).

As a sub-field, historical sociology is large and diverse. This
course makes no attempt to survey even the best of recent scholarship
in historical sociology; that would be impossible within the confines
of a single semester. Insofar as possible, we will illustrate the
various methodological issues we discuss with examples from good
historical scholarship.