Paul E. Hoffman


Superficially quantitative history, like happiness, is different things to different people. Basically, however, it seeks to verify in more explicit ways generalizations such as "X was more important than Y," and "slavery was (or was not) profitable." To that end, numbers and statistical tests are developed to describe the same reality as that dealt with by "traditional" history. For most practitioners of the methodology this numerical description is a second, verifying description having as much validity, but no more than a narrative about the same historical events. Occasionally, as with the fiscal history of Florida from 1565 to 1585, the quantitative approach, besides confirming generalizations developed from literary sources, suggests misleading insights which must be corrected by reference to the literary record. A quantification of Florida's history based on the royal treasury accounts is thus useful not only for the historical data it can yield, but also as an example of the limitations of the technique.