The Dynamics of American Politics: Approaches and Interpretations

By Lawrence C. Dodd; Calvin Jillson | Go to book overview
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Common Ground: History and Theories of American Politics

ELAINE K. SWIFT DAVID W. BRADY

Never before have political scientists been more interested in history, a fact made plain by the dramatic increase in the number of historically oriented books and articles over the last decade. Not only does this interest show no sign of abating, but it has also begun to institutionalize itself with the establishment of historically oriented political science journals, Studies in American Political Development and Journal of Policy History; the initiation series of books by Princeton University Press, Stanford University Press, and Westview Press; and the formation of the History and Politics Section within the American Political Science Association ( Robertson, 1993). This turn to the past is only in small part due to the discipline's increased interest in history for its own sake. Rather, many political scientists have come to believe that history is an essential ingredient in building dynamic, generalizable, and accurate theory. Because a longer time line confronts scholars with conditions of stability and instability, thereby challenging them to account for both, historically informed theory is more likely to be dynamic, that is, better able to account for both continuity and change. A longer perspective also prompts attention beyond a particular phenomenon in a particular context to a phenomenon in its various manifestations and contexts over time, thereby encouraging the formulation of theory broad enough to capture that phenomenon's variegated nature over time. In addition, historically based research is more likely to be accurate. Any contemporary study is likely to draw upon a small sample in comparison to an historical study and therefore be less suited for formulating or testing theory than historical approaches, whose range of variables, conditions, and outcomes is more likely to be representative of the true nature of political phenomena.

These and other advantages that history offers to political scientists are

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