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University of Dundee

Context

The historians at Dundee have a strong tradition of engaging students in documentary work from the outset of their studies. Numerical inputs are seen as part of this dimension.

Level 1

The module Britain in the 20th Century includes a lecture and seminar dealing with quantitative approaches. Students can avoid this module, but most take it. Examples of the data they study are twentieth century infant mortality rates; deaths from major childhood diseases, 1900-1960; convictions in Scottish courts, 1908-2000; illegitimacy rates in UK countries, 1900-2000; tables showing non-white UK population, 1945-2000; immigration patterns; and sexual Intercourse amongst 16/17 year olds, 1964 and 1974.

There is also a core module, entitled The Age of Revolutions, c.1750 – c.1850. One section of this module concerns the Industrial Revolution. It presents students with quantitative data in tabular form, dealing with such matters as crude and age-specific death rates and real consumption levels. On-line provision features. Students interpret and evaluate the data and are introduced to the underpinning concepts. For the most part, they do not manipulate the data, though they undertake a worksheet exercise that involves them in calculating percentages and ratios. They also consider the visual representation of data, as well as qualitative primary evidence that contains statistical information.

Final two years

During the final two years of their course, students can take optional modules into which numerical elements are incorporated. In Early United States History, a major component comprises exercises students undertake into aspects of US history through interrogating data bases fed into Access. They are guided by an on-line workbook and on-line feedback. Students submit an essay for assessment drawing on the material contained in the data bases. The data-base work comprises about 25 per cent of the module and takes place in ten, one-hour sessions. The Scots on the Move module also involves students in manipulating statistical data. Key concerns here are to get the students to identify trends and to realise what the data they use are not telling them. Students prepare graphs using the spreadsheet wizard and, in manipulating and presenting their data, they are guided by an on-line worksheet.

Examples

  1. In the level 1 MA (undergraduate) module Britain in the Twentieth Century, lectures routinely contain statistical data that are both presented and analysed. For example, one of the lectures deals with Scotland between 1900 and 1945, a key feature of the approach being to integrate statistical narratives of historical change into a wider range of narratives and perspectives, mixing geographic, image and quantitative evidence. The idea is to illustrate the value of statistical information to illuminate important historical change ― the decline of the occupational significance of employment in the staple industries of heavy engineering and textiles; the decline of ‘traditional’ childhood and adult disease and the significance of the Second World War and the foundation of the NHS in doing this; and the comparatively low level of criminal convictions in Scotland in the first half of the twentieth century. The emphasis is on the simplicity of presentation of statistical data, and the ease of interpretation of major historical trends from that presentation. This is an exercise in enticing students to see quantitative investigation as both straightforward and analytically highly rewarding.

     

    Examples of the graphs used in the lecture are given in this pdf document (PDF Document).

  2. In Professor Callum Brown’s Honours module Britain in the 1960s, each student makes a 30-minute PowerPoint-aided presentation on one of 25 themes covering ‘the long sixties’ from 1957 to 1975. Some of these themes are not readily conducive to statistical work, but many are, and students are encouraged to incorporate tables or graphs. This occurs, for instance, in themes dealing with economic change; religious change; town planning and urban improvement; developments in the family; and women in the workplace. The students are encouraged to use data available in secondary literature, or online at reputable sites (such as British Religion in Numbers at www.brin. ac.uk) and to use Excel to input data, generate tables and draw graphs. The theme of the talk then becomes the theme of the student’s essay for the module.

 

A minority of students go on to undertake a dissertation on a theme they have drawn from the module; in session 2010-11, one student made a module presentation in semester 1 discussing Callum Brown’s controversial ‘Death of Christian Britain’ thesis, and went on in semester 2 to write a dissertation testing the thesis on the town of Berwick, using church statistics collected by him from the local Anglican Archive and the Free Churches