Assignment 1 (due Wednesday, September 17)

The goal of this exercise is to work on the skill of analyzing quantitative evidence using the data provided in this week’s reading, Acemoglu et al., “The Rise of Europe.” To do so, each student will write a 250-300 word explanation of one aspect of one table or graph in the article.

You should first select which table or graph you want to analyze, and identify it by page or figure number in your essay. You can then approach the data in one of two ways:

  1. You may select part of the data that Acemoglu et al. worked with in their article as part of their argument. If you choose this option, you should first describe briefly (in 1-2 sentences) how the authors used the data in question. In the remainder of your essay, you should then expand on their analysis, question their conclusions, or highlight areas of confusion that you encounter.
  2. You may select a portion of the data that the authors do not fully examine. In this case, you should first explain why you chose to analyze the data, and then, as above, offer analysis, questions, or highlight areas of confusion.

In either case your discussion, though brief, should refer to quantitative or numerical data directly.

Keep in mind that this exercise is intended for you to engage the material deeply and to practice the skill of quantitative analysis, rather than for you to seek a “correct answer” to the data. Furthermore, because the exercise will grow out of our reading and discussion for this week, a certain amount of how we approach it must necessarily develop organically through the week.

Assignment 2 (due Wednesday, November 12)

For this exercise, the goal is to consider how quantitative evidence can support or detract from a historical argument. We will be using Chapter 5 of Jane Mangan’s Trading Roles and the accompanying appendix tables (distributed in class). Based on our discussion in class, we established Mangan’s argument about the role of women traders, noting that in the text of her chapter she relies largely on a series of personal stories and narrative to illuminate her argument. She supports her case, however, with a wealth of data in an appendix, from which students have Tables 6 through 9.

Each student will complete an essay of about 250-300 words that addresses two questions/issues about the chapter and one of the tables (of the student’s choice):

  1. In a paragraph, describe the data presented in the table. That is, you should narrate the table in a way that makes sense to understand how Mangan has organized and presented the data, and what the data represent.
  2. In one or two paragraphs, discuss how the quantitative evidence enhances or detracts from Mangan’s overall argument in Chapter 5. Consider what about the data is significant to understanding the history of women traders in Potosí, how Mangan integrates that data into the narrative arc of her chapter, and any other issues you feel is relevant.

As with the first quantitative analysis assignment, remember that you are not seeking a “correct answer” for the data, but rather to think critically about how to use quantitative evidence in historical arguments about economic life.

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