Natural Experiments of History

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Jared Diamond, James A. Robinson
Harvard University Press, Nov 1, 2012 - History - 278 pages
2 Reviews

Some central questions in the natural and social sciences can't be answered by controlled laboratory experiments, often considered to be the hallmark of the scientific method. This impossibility holds for any science concerned with the past. In addition, many manipulative experiments, while possible, would be considered immoral or illegal. One has to devise other methods of observing, describing, and explaining the world.

In the historical disciplines, a fruitful approach has been to use natural experiments or the comparative method. This book consists of eight comparative studies drawn from history, archeology, economics, economic history, geography, and political science. The studies cover a spectrum of approaches, ranging from a non-quantitative narrative style in the early chapters to quantitative statistical analyses in the later chapters. The studies range from a simple two-way comparison of Haiti and the Dominican Republic, which share the island of Hispaniola, to comparisons of 81 Pacific islands and 233 areas of India. The societies discussed are contemporary ones, literate societies of recent centuries, and non-literate past societies. Geographically, they include the United States, Mexico, Brazil, western Europe, tropical Africa, India, Siberia, Australia, New Zealand, and other Pacific islands.

In an Afterword, the editors discuss how to cope with methodological problems common to these and other natural experiments of history.


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User Review  - dandelionroots - LibraryThing

Considers seven historical comparisons, some with and with out statistical analysis making the case that both have their place and usefulness within the social sciences, but that statistical analysis ... Read full review

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User Review  - Janientrelac - LibraryThing

Mixed bag of Articles around the theme of what is a natural experiment, how a historian makes the comparision and does the math. a lot of the statistical work was right over my head but interesting. I had no idea that so many original documents were avaliable about the slave trade for example. Read full review


Prologue Jared Diamond And James A Robinson
1 Controlled Comparison and Polynesian Cultural Evolution Patrick V Kirch
Boom and Bust in NineteenthCentury Settler Societies James Belich
Evidence from New World Economies Stephen Haber
4 IntraIsland and InterIsland Comparisons Jared Diamond
The Causes and Consequences of Africas Slave Trades Nathan Nunn
6 Colonial Land Tenure Electoral Competition and Public Goods in India Abhijit Banerjee and Lakshmi Iyer
The Spread of the French Revolution as a Natural Experiment Daron Acemoglu Davide Cantoni Simon Johnson and James A Robinson
Using Comparative Methods in Studies of Human History Jared Diamond and James A Robinson

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About the author (2012)

Jared Mason Diamond is a physiologist, ecologist, and the author of several popular science books. Born in Boston in 1937, Diamond earned his B.A. at Harvard and his Ph.D. from Cambridge. A distinguished teacher and researcher, Diamond is well-known for the columns he contributes to the widely read magazines Natural History and Discover. Diamond's book The Third Chimpanzee: The Evolution and Future of the Human Animal was heralded for its accessibility and for its blending of science and social science. The interdisciplinary Guns, Germs and Steel--Diamond's examination of the relationship between scientific technology and economic disparity--won the 1997 Pulitzer Prize. Diamond has won a McArthur Foundation Fellowship in addition to several smaller awards for his science and writing.

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