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Retrieving European Lives

European History, Formal Methods

The article argues that the central activity for the study of European social history is reconstructing ordinary people's experience of large structural changes. Formal methods for this task such as collective biographies have the disadvantage of missing critical elements of movements and being enormously time consuming, but also provide extremely precise information that can be used to do close comparisons. In theory, these methods allow the researcher the ability to retain the idiosyncrasy of personal experience while identifying uniformities and variations across many personal experiences.