Analytic Narratives: What they are and how they contribute to historical explanation

In Claude Diebolt & Michael Haupert (eds.), Handbook of Cliometrics. Berlin: Springer (2019)
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The expression "analytic narratives" is used to refer to a range of quite recent studies that lie on the boundaries between history, political science, and economics. These studies purport to explain specific historical events by combining the usual narrative approach of historians with the analytic tools that economists and political scientists draw from formal rational choice theories. Game theory, especially of the extensive form version, is currently prominent among these tools, but there is nothing inevitable about such a technical choice. The chapter explains what analytic narratives are by reviewing the studies of the major book Analytic Narratives (1998), which are concerned with the workings of political institutions broadly speaking, as well as several cases drawn from military and security studies, which form an independent source of the analytic narratives literature. At the same time as it gradually develops a definition of analytic narratives, the chapter investigates how they fulfil one of their main purposes, which is to provide explanations of a better standing than those of traditional history. An important principle that will emerge in the course of the discussion is that narration is called upon not only to provide facts and problems, but also to contribute to the explanation itself. The chapter distinguishes between several expository schemes of analytic narratives according to the way they implement this principle. From all the arguments developed here, it seems clear that the current applications of analytic narratives do not exhaust their potential, and in particular that they deserve the attention of economic historians, if only because they are concerned with microeconomic interactions that are not currently their focus of attention.

Author's Profile

Philippe Mongin
Last affiliation: Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique


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