Comparative Historical Analysis

I am drawing up a plan to learn more about comparative historical analysis (CHA). This is a profound approach in comparative politics in which (regrettably) I don’t feel to have enough exposure in grad school. My encounter with CHA was made through comparative politics’ courses in my department, but not by way of technical-method courses alike. So when I took democratization’s class, for example, I got a chance to read Moore’s Social Origins or Skocpol’s State and Social Revolutions (surely not in its entirety). I got a sense of what the authors were talking about. But I did not necessarily grasp about how can the authors validate or not to validate their arguments? I mean, how can we convince several main factors trigger macro structures like revolutions, democracy, institutions, etc to set in? The CHA answers to that might rest on the “complex interplay” of many forces where the events or places are taking place. It thus compels us to read extensively about history before making an argument. To be sure, clearly nobody wish to write something considered too simplistic or too narrow. But complexity is explained once a clear framework proposed.

Apparently my experiences in writing papers thus far suggest that writing a kind of historical papers are a way harder than quantitative ones. One seeks to write a historical paper, I think, will always start with ideas or problems that interest him most. Once he knows the ideas, he can start sorting out data or information from a wide range of sources that fit into his ideas. So ideas come before data. The latter is quite different though. In my experiences writing quantitative papers, I never, and cannot, start with ideas. Indeed, I didn’t know what to write before I look upon my data. When data available, I usually start running various regression models to see what I can come up with. A glimpse of ideas pop up, but quite often unsettled. So I run another model again up until I got a better sense about what I am going to write. When I see interesting yet unexpected findings in my data, then I can start thinking about the best conceivable framework to put the findings in a coherent manner. Then I start writing. I nearly begin with “data or research design section” first. Then writing the results, or the main body of the paper before working on literature review. So it is a bit in a reverse order compared to that of you read in a “normal” paper.

Back to CHA, I am eager to learn more about this, as I know my research plan will be much related to history. There are some compelling sources to begin with. For a starter like I am, an excellent piece would be Lijphart (1971, 1975), Skocpol & Somers (1980), Steinmo & Thelen edited volume (1992), and Mahoney & Thelen (2015). Also there is a good article from Slater & Ziblatt (2013). All give you a proper framework to work in the field of CHA.

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