22 September 2013

"That Bitch-Goddess Quantification"

The response of the historical profession's elite was rapid, but by no means single-minded. To the sometimes strident demands of the devotees of the new history that traditionally trained historians "retool, rethink, reform, or be plowed under," as one older economic historian caricatured the new program, some historians at first reacted with fright, irrationality, and something close to panic. Arthur Schlesinger, Jr., whose description of Whig and Jacksonian electoral coalitions had failed Benson's systematic numerical tests, retreated behind a hastily erected wall of dogma. "Almost all important questions," Schlesinger proclaimed, "are important precisely because they are not susceptible to quantitative answers." In a presidential address to the American Historical Association, Carl Bridenbaugh issued a jeremiad against the infiltrating priests of the new religion, warning his fellow historians never to "worship at the shrine of that Bitch-goddess, QUANTIFICATION."
From J. Morgan Kousser, "Quantitative Social-Scientific History," in The Past Before Us: Contemporary Historical Writing in the United States, ed. Michael G. Kammen, p.434.