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Political scientists generally do it quite differently.Regardless of whether they use case studies or statistical data (what are known as large-N studies), they generally use the comparative method to get at causation.
For all our differences, we share a fascination with the patterns, idiosyncrasies, and changes in cross-border relations.t may be useful to mark the addition of Security Studies to the H-Diplo list by discussing some of the differences in the way historians and political scientists typically approach our common subject matter. Is it too much to say that our relations are symbiotic or even that we are doomed to a marriage?
For all our differences, we share a fascination with the patterns, idiosyncrasies, and changes in cross-border relations. When I said this at the H-Diplo conference at Williams College last spring, Randy Schweller objected that political scientists seek to develop and test theories rather than to explain events.
We should be aware of what we are doing, however, and alert our readers of this, taking special care to point them to alternative interpretations.
Since we are often painting in broader strokes and looking for ways to explain a great deal with a relatively few factors and relationships, we can utilize understandings of history that simplify and trim it.
IMPORTANCE OF CHRONOLOGYThe passage of time is central to history and so it is not surprising that most historical studies are built around chronology.
This is not to say that these accounts simply put one thing after another, but that understanding how positions develop and change and how relations evolve or unfold through time is central to the historian’s task.There is a perhaps associated difference between the scholars in their stance toward facts.I do not want to get into the difficult and important question of what exactly we mean by facts, whether they can exist independently of our interpretations, and related issues of epistemology and ontology.In this way, political scientists have something in common with postmodernists in our willingness to draw on interpretations that we know are partial and contested. Taylor was a political scientist in this regard, much as he would be horrified by the thought.Indeed, in some cases we can be happy to take contested facts and interpretations as hypotheticals. As I read his marvelous books, they appear to resemble political science in being heavily thesis-driven and even theory-driven.From the political science side, it seems to me that the investment and affections are a bit asymmetric in that most of us see the great importance of international history, while historians draw less from political science and sometimes have the temerity to doubt the value of the discipline.In my last year of graduate studies at Berkeley I took a fine course on European international history by the renowned Raymond Sontag.I very much enjoyed and learned from the course, but when I talked to him about drawing on history for my dissertation, while he treated me with great personal kindness, he made clear that he really didn’t see why political science was needed and hoped that I would not muck up his field.On the other hand, many historians have not only tolerated and even encouraged our intrusions, they have drawn on our theories.Statistical fixes can be deployed, there is quite a bit of work on learning, and some political scientists have stressed the importance of “path-dependence”—the way in which choices and events can set enduring patterns.But it is nevertheless the case that the comparative method is drilled into them in graduate school (or perhaps it is an affinity with this approach that has drawn them to the discipline), and chronology is rarely the backbone of their analysis.