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TheCanadian Review of American Studies, Volume IX, Number 2, Fall, 1978 TheLimitations of Quantification in I LocalHistorical Studies Robert Doherty. Society and Power: Five New England Towns, /800-1860. Amherst: University of Massachusetts Press, 1977.128pp, Robert D. Mitchell. Commercialism and Frontier: Perspectives on the Earlr Shenandoah Valley.Charlottesville: University Press of Virginia, 1977 251+ xiv pp. David J. Russo Statistical studies of American urban history now appear to be at least as important as more traditional ones in the literature of the field. In the long view,this is something that happened with astonishing swiftness. As recently as 1965,Charles Glaab, in his "The Historian and the American City: A Bibliographic Survey" (in The Study of Urbanization, eds. Philip Hauser and Leo Schnore), commented on various kinds of writings-urban biography, period studies, special themes in urban history-with very little referenceto quantification. Today's surveyor would be compelled to focus on such work. Similarly, statistically-oriented studies- most notably those byhistorian Merle Curti (The Making of an American Community, 1959) and, more recently, by historical geographer James Lemon (The Best Poor Man'sCountry, 1972)--have greatly affected the kind of inquiry now being made into the history of rural areas and populations. In town history, by contrast, the most influential writing has not been of this character. The work of Atherton, Lockridge, Zuckerman, Dykstra and Page Smith has been characterized by thoroughly old-fashioned-yet quite imaginative-use of evidence in a literary manner, i.e., as illustration and description. Only if family history in the context of particular towns (for example, Greven's study of colonial Andover families) were to be included under the rubric of "town history" could the argument be made that quantification has become important in this field as well. The reasons for this differentdevelopment are not apparent, as many of the same kinds of records 194 David J. Russo that Thernstrom, Knights and others have used for their studies of urban populations typically exist for town dwellers as well. It is significant that Robert Doherty, in his Society and Power: Five New England Towns,1800. 1860, makes use of these materials from such genuine towns as Ware and Pelham, Massachusetts, geographic communities that have never become cities. Some may regard the foregoing emphasis on community as misplaced and want to assert that statistical studies of local or sub-national history are focussed on people, not communities, and that what such authors do is to present a statistical profile of a precisely-measured population, followingit around, as it were, as it grows older or moves in and out of geographical settlements. Perhaps the most constant-certainly the most unmistakabletheme of these statistical studies is the pervasiveness of geographical mobilitv as a feature of American life. Therefore, it is a fair question to ask: why bothe┬Ěr with communities as an organizing principle or as a unit of study? whynot study people, since so many of them did not have a life-long attachment toa particular place? The second question gives rise to further ones, however: which people? on what basis is a population delimited? And, what about those who did not move around, who did remain in a given place throughout their lives? Indeed, is not even a mobile population always living within the context of some community, whether it be a city, town, village or rural neighborhood? Doherty, while underscoring the findings of Thernstrom, Knights and others, also found that, in addition to the fact that the poor and unskilled moved more often than others, young males moved far more frequently than adult males over thirty. But Doherty does not neglect the "persisters" and attempts to take into account the dimension of community in the lives ofthe people he studies: "If community is defined in terms of participation in a network of relationships and institutions, mobility did not have much impact. Members of the stable population maintained public institutions and voluntary associations over long periods of time. These affiliations and involvements brought coherence and long-term stability to a community in which migrants seldom if ever joined" (p. 44). In this way, Doherty providesa plausible explanation for community stability in a setting of...


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