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Why and How History Matters

Social History, Political Contention

The article argues that all political analysis requires serious consideration of the historical context. Tilly outlines several reasons why history matters to political analysis: (a) political analysis makes assumptions about historical origins of phenomenon and time-place scope conditions; (b) some features of political processes occur outside the observation of human participants and thus require historical reconstruction; (c) political processes incorporate local cultures which are historical determined; (d) political processes are influenced by external factors (i.e. neighboring countries) that change over time; (e) and path dependency strongly influences political processes.

Why Read the Classics?

Social Scientific Knowledge

The article describes how sociological classics positively influence current research. Tilly’s primary argument is that the classics provide “sources of justification” for contemporary arguments. The classics also commit researchers towards the cumulative goal of answering important questions, and identify the theoretical conversations in which researchers are engaged.

Historical Analysis of Political Processes

Historical Sociology, Political Contention, Social Mechanisms

The article urges sociologists to renew their search for robust causal mechanisms and processes in history. It then outlines an analytical program that includes goals such as pursuing robust mechanisms and processes that make up large social phenomena, explaining puzzling features in historical episodes, explaining puzzling features of whole classes of historical episodes, and detecting analogies among ostensibly dissimilar episodes.

Historical Sociology

Historical Sociology

The article provides an overview of the subfield of Historical Sociology which he parses into four intellectual pursuits. The first pursuit is social criticism which aims to reconstruct of the past on the way to informing human choices in the present and future. The second pursuit, pattern identification, aims to discover the necessary and sufficient conditions for large recurrent social transformations. The third pursuit is scope extension which aims to either apply techniques or models of current life to historical situations, or use historical evidence to challenge contemporary sociological thought. The fourth pursuit, process analysis, aims to examine how social interactions impinge on each other in time and space, where time and space are considered defining causes of social processes, rather than simply additional variables.

Iron City Blues

Social Mechanisms

Tilly reviews "Fundamentalism, Sectarianism, and Revolution: the Jacobin Dimension of Modernity" by S.N. Eisenstadt. Tilly argues that research proposing to make civilizations and societies major actors within human history must indentify (1) the boundaries separating each unit and it population from other units, (2) the distinctive culture of each unit which operate within and throughout the boundaries of the society, and (3) the self-regulating processes within these boundaries.

A Grand Tour of Exotic Landes

Social History

The article reviews historian David Landes' sweeping comparison of successes and failures in economic growth, arguing against its long-term cultural determinism.

What Good is Urban History?

Urban History

The article suggests that cties are an excellent natural laboratory in which to study the mechanisms which are tied to important macro processes such as social inequality. He urges urban historians to recognize this opportunity and ask the "big" questions in their research.

How (and What) Are Historians Doing?

Historical Method

The article compares history to other disciplines and outlines some of the major philosophical debates surrounding historical research.

History stands out from other disciplines due to its: (1) insistence on time and place as fundamental principles of variation; (2) specialization according to time and place; (3) questions rooted in national politics; (4) interpenetration of professional and amateur efforts; (5) heavy reliance on documentary evidence; (6) emphasis on practices that involve identification of crucial actors and their motivations, the verification of this with documentary evidence, and the presentation of it in narrative form.

The major philosophical choices facing historians include (1) whether the most important phenomena to study are large social processes or individual experiences; (2) whether research should be centered on the systematic observation of human action or the interpretation of individual motives and meanings; (3) whether history and social sciences are the same or distinct fields of research; (4) whether historical writing should stress explanation or narrative.

Misreading, Then Re-Reading, Nineteenth-Century Social Change

European History

The article argues that many of the sociological models of modernization in Europe in the 19th century are misleading due to their depiction of the past world as overly immobile, fragmented, agrarian, rural, but locally homogenous and integrated. Tilly offers the alternative view that social changes of this era and location are best observed as the interaction between the macro-processes of the growth of nation-states and expansion of capitalism.

Future History

Historical Sociology

The article expresses an argument for sociology, as a field, to return to its historical roots in which social interaction and processes are properly rooted in time and space. This important because, as Tilly points out, social processes are inherently path-dependent whereby "every existing structure stands in the place of many theoretically possible alternative structures, and its very existance affects the probabilities that the alternatives will ever come to being."

Linkers, Diggers, and Glossers in Social History

The article describes how the field of social history is composed of three types of researchers:

Linkers: those who look to compare social processes and mechanisms.
Diggers: those who view history as a base where vital information about national politics can be found.
Glossers: those who use an anthropological viewpoint in which to recreate significant past actions in terms of meanings that they had for those actors.

The Tyranny of Here and Now

Historical Sociology

The article contends that sociological findings are oriented to a single time and place: Here and Now. To escape the tyranny of this boundary condition, sociologists focus on structures and processes that minimize constraints of time and place. Therefore, sociologists insist on explicit conceptualization, hypothesis testing, and elaboratative formalizations in their arguments and worry more about modeling, measurement and estimation than social historians. In reviewing William H. Sewell Jr.'s "Structure and Mobility: The Men and Women of Marseille, 1820-1870" (1985), Tilly critiques Sewell's attempt to mesh the two fields of study, categorized under the subfield of Historical Sociology. Tilly remarks that Historical Sociology should not be a straightforward absorption of historical analyses into sociological models; it is not worth the effort.

The Old New Social History and the New Old Social History

Formal Methods

The article contrasts the impact of "The New Social History" of the 1960s which was based on applying statistical analysis to historical evidence, in light of the field's return to a more narrative-based analysis of historical events in the 1970s which he terms "The New Old Social History".

Two Callings of Social History

Historical Method

The article argues that social history research can be segmented into retrospective and prospective callings. The retrospective calling looks at the current world and tries to figure out how it came into being and how it affected the everyday life of ordinary people. The prospective calling asks what could have happened at important historical points and why the actual outcome prevailed over possible outcomes. Both are important as social science is in need of more historically-grounded theories.

Historical Sociology

Historical Sociology

The article gives a brief history and definition of the field of Historical Sociology. He posits that sociology's shift back towards history is a result of the general dissatisfaction with its developmental models of large-scale social change. Sociology, Tilly writes, is clearly differentiated from history in its reduced dealings with historical text and is instead built upon the abstraction and concretization of history; the abstraction of underlying processes from constraints of time and space and the concretizing of social research by aiming it at observations of visible behavior.

Anthropology, History, and the Annales


The article comments on the two main differences between the fields of anthropology and history. He argues that historians tend to be concerned with fixing action in time rather than space and anthropologists are concerned with fixing action in place rather than time. Additionally, historians are hostile to the use of categories which were not a part of a period's own vocabulary, whereas anthropologists frequently use foreign analytic frames. Interestingly enough, as Tilly points out, within the historical study of protests and collective action two anthropological styles became widely used in 1960s and 70s: (1) close analysis of cultural materials such as sounds and iconography and (2) retrospective ethnography.

In Defence of Jargon


The article outlines three practices that separate sociologists from historians: (1) their insistence on explicit conceptualization; (2) their use of systematic comparison; (3) their attempts at objective verification.