Koyama on Counterfactual History

Reblogged from The Past Speaks:

The Past Speaks

Mark Koyama, an economic historian at George Mason University, has published an excellent piece on counterfactual history. He begins by pointing out that many history-department historians dislike counterfactual history and that this sentiment is particularly pronounced among historians who subscribe to Marxism or other teleological worldviews. Koyama points out that counterfactual thinking is an integral part of causal analysis in academic research, and indeed ordinary life.  He draws on David Hume’s observation that a counterfactual is implicit whenever we use the word “cause” or one of its synonyms. He points out that many historians who are against extended counterfactual analysis nevertheless engage in implicit counterfactual analysis of varying levels of quality. To provide an example of amateurish counterfactual analysis, Koyama mention Ed Baptist’s controversial book The Half Has Never Been Told, which argues that almost 50% of US GDP in 1836 was due to slavery. (For more…

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One thought on “Koyama on Counterfactual History

  1. This is a crock. It lacks basic scholarship by ignoring work on counterfactuals that would undermine its authority (so it is poor history- it ignores the history of counterfactualism). It seems to attack Baptist for making an empirical claim, implying any empirical claim is counterfactual. That claims is widely reproduced in broad terms elsewhere; and while salient Baptist is far from reliant on it. What it does affirm in its tone is the view becoming prevalent in business schools – that business history and economic history are not for nice people. The nasty subdisciplines.

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