According to Julie

I’m a people person

9 Comments

This evening I found myself sitting at the LSE Library reading a chapter about ways to quantify and compare fertility rates in different pre-industrial societies. I was surprised by how much fun I was having. Just an hour before, I had spoken to fellow students while waiting for class to start, and one of them had said: “I’m sure there are many lovely people who find demographics interesting, but I am not one of them.”

Well, I am. In fact, I find population growth rates, changes in life expectancy and statistics like “median age of married women at the birth of their last child” more interesting than say, descriptions of history’s great military battles and political intrigues. When I think about societies from other time periods, I like knowing how old the old people were, when (and how and why) people got married, how many children they had and whether the children went to school, and for how long, and what they learned there. And I like knowing how people decided where to live, and how to live and who moved where.

I’ve always preferred the social sciences over natural sciences because I am interested in people. I think the reason I eventually ended up in economic history, is less to do with an interest in money and more to do with an interest in the importance of the general population – their wealth, education, opinions and general patterns of behavior – and what that all means in the long run.

Military history and political history is – at least when separated from socio-economic history – the study of a few people’s major, singular decisions: Should I give the order to go to war? Do I want to run for president? Should I veto this, approve that? Economic history is the study of the aggregated choices of ordinary people over time.

When you decide to move to the suburbs, or use birth control, or get a student loan, or buy a house, or not get married, or spend more rather than save more when you get a pay raise, you are changing history. How can you not find that interesting?

Related: For Norwegian readers, a previous post on brain drain within the health sector, one of many things within the realm of population studies that I find interesting.

9 thoughts on “I’m a people person

  1. Well, couple it with an understanding of how technology evolves over time, and you get some interesting insights. I remember an interview round done about 20 years ago with a number of social scientists about what technological innovation did most to further women’s liberation, and the almost unanimous answer was: The washing machine. (Simply because washing clothes by hand for a family consumes about one day’s labor per week, which was normally done by women.)

    In a similar vein: The most interesting insights gained from studying old newspaper archives is not the editorial copy – we know, by and large, what happened – but the ads, which tells us something about what people thought about and reacted to.

    • And for that very reason watching English commercials is sometimes as interesting to me as watching the actual programs. More on that later, I think.

    • Hi, you two!
      Hans Rosling was on “Skavlan” yesterday with a very lively demonstration of the importance of the washing machine in terms of women’s lib. Maybe you can find it on NRK or SVT?
      Ingar

  2. 😀 This is why I study psych. It’s also fascinating how similar interests, in slightly different contexts and personalities, can lead to quite different study- and career-choices.🙂

  3. Hei! Jeg har fått i oppgave og skrive en kontrafaktisk historie om et tema. jeg valgte industrialiseringen og lurte på om du hadde noe erfaring med slik historieskriving?
    På forhånd takk for svar!

    • Jeg har lite erfaring med kontrafaktisk historieskriving selv, men jeg har noe erfaring med industrialisering – hvis du mener den industrielle revolusjonen da. Du kan jo begynne med å lese denne bloggposten og spesielt se på referansene: https://accordingtojulie.wordpress.com/2005/11/08/hvorfor-storbritannia/

      Tenk over hva som gjorde at Storbritannia ble industrialisert, og se om du kan skrive hva som skulle til for at det ble et annet land enn akkurat Storbritannia som tok av. Kunne det vært Nederland? India? Kina? Frankrike? Det er langt flere mulige faktorer enn det jeg nevner i den bloggposten. Storbritannias tilgang på billig kull og det faktum at lønningene i Storbritannia var høyere enn i mange andre land som ellers kanskje blitt industrialisert, førte til en satsing på oppfinnelser som sparte på arbeidskraft, men brukte mye kull, for eksempel dampmaskinen. I India var det ikke lønnsomt å satse på store maskiner som sparte på arbeidskraft, fordi lønningene var så lave. Det er i hvert fall det historikere som Allen, Broadberry og Gupta mener. Let etter dem på et bibliotek eller på Google Scholar.

      Alternativt kan du sammenligne kulturelle forskjeller, slik som Landes i stor grad gjør i den boken jeg har referert til i bloggposten. Et annet spørsmål er hvor viktig enkeltpersoner er – manglet andre land genier som kunne oppfinne viktige maskiner, eller manglet de en kultur som kunne satse på disse genistrekene? Storbritannia hadde både en kultur for deling av kunnskap gjennom foreninger for vitenskapsmenn, et patentsystem som sørget for at oppfinnere fikk betalt for oppfinnelsene sine, og en kultur for samarbeid mellom eksperter på tvers av fagfelt.

  4. Tusen takk!!🙂
    Har endret tema da. Tenker heller og skrive om hva som kunne skjedd om norge hadde sagt ja gått i allianse med tyskerne og ikke dratt til england. Da kunne jo mange ting blitt annerledes.
    Har jo vært endel om det her i media og i det siste. Noen tanker?

  5. Pingback: Living locally, working globally « According to Julie

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s