To the Editor:
John Majewski’s piece on “U.S. History in a Statistical Age” [TAH, Nov. 2014] did not explore the full range of ironies in the profession’s brief affair and bitter breakup with quantitative history. It occurred just as PC-based statistical programs were becoming user-friendly as never before, and when access to quantitative sources can be gained with unprecedented ease. Astonishingly, the article overlooked the Minnesota Population Center’s Integrated Public Use Microdata Series (IPUMS-USA) series of census data sets: freely downloadable, nationwide representative samples of every U.S. manuscript census from 1850 to the present, with all variables systematized in uniform, transparent coding schemes. The allied North Atlantic Population Project (NAPP) offers complete count data in a similar format. The range of historical questions that can be addressed with this material is limited only by historians’ imagination: a rather serious limitation, it appears.
Walter D. Kamphoefner
Texas A&M University>
John Majewski responds:
I very much appreciate Professor Kamphoefner’s argument. Yes, indeed, there has been a remarkable decline in computing costs and a growing availability of downloadable data, which makes the decline of quantitative history even more puzzling. One should note, though, that quantitative social scientists used the lower cost of computing as an opportunity to invest in more sophisticated statistical techniques and models. Becoming conversant in these state-of-the-art techniques required substantial training, and most historians, for perfectly logical reasons, chose instead to devote time and training in other methods. As I indicated in my piece, this scholarly division of labor may finally be breaking down. As mapping programs and other software packages make it easier to represent data visually via maps and other compelling graphics, the moment is now right for historians to reengage in quantitative methods.
Thank you so much for sending the debut issue of The American Historian. I read the issue carefully and I want to congratulate you on this wonderful new magazine. Seems to be a perfect mix of reflections on the state of art in historiography, entertaining features, and interesting reviews. Especially those of us historians who—like me—teach American history abroad and will be really thankful for this magazine. We cherish the Journal for its scholarly excellence—but it is great fun to have this new “little” magazine which offers so many good bits and pieces.
Once again: Thank you so much for The American Historian and keep up the good work!
Johannes Kepler Universität Linz, Germany
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Jeremy Varon’s essay “It Was Forty, Fifty, Sixty Years Ago Today: The 1960s in American Myth and Memory,” published in the November 2014 issue, indicated that Soundtrack ’63 was a production of the New School. Soundtrack ’63 staged a performance at the New School, but is not affiliated with the New School.