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Comparative Historical Analysis

Course Dates and Times

Monday 25 February – Friday 1 March, 14:00–17:30 (finishing slightly earlier on Friday)
15 hours over 5 days

Markus Kreuzer

Comparative historical analysis (CHA) is an umbrella term covering the work of a wide range of scholars investigating macro-historical questions and thus placing time at the centre of their social inquiry.

This course teaches you how to use time in your analysis. It covers five elements.

First, it differentiates CHA from other social science approaches.

Second, it differentiates two distinct notions of time within CHA. Some CHA scholars focus more on elements of natural time (duration, tempo, timing, sequences) while others concentrate on historical time (analysing how the past is qualitatively different from the present).

Third, it unpacks natural and historical time into their analytical building blocks and shows how CHA uses them to analyse temporal dynamics and historical processes.

Fourth, it differentiates the distinct temporal mechanisms that three broad strands of CHA use to explain macro-historical outcomes.

Fifth, it asks students to complete a small final project.

Tasks for ECTS Credits

2 credits (pass/fail grade). Attend at least 90% of course hours, participate fully in in-class activities, and carry out the necessary reading and/or other work prior to, and after, class.

3 credits (to be graded) As above, plus complete short daily assignments to assess the mastery of material covered in the readings or in class.

4 credits (to be graded) As above, plus complete a short written assignment requiring integration of material covered during earlier classes. Assignments will be discussed in the final class.

Instructor Bio

Markus Kreuzer is Professor of Political Science at Villanova University. He has worked on the origins of European and post-communist party systems, qualitative methodology and comparative historical analysis.

He teaches a module on comparative historical analysis at the yearly Institute for Qualitative and Multi-Method Research hosted by Syracuse University. Markus is the author of various articles, and the following books:


Why CHA Is Exciting and Relevant

Comparative historical analysis is exciting not just because it appeals to some people’s intrinsic fascination with history, but also because it sheds a distinct light on important contemporary policies, and is central for understanding important theoretical debates in political science.

CHA traces its lineage back to nineteenth-century giants like Tocqueville, Marx, Durkheim, Weber and Hintze, who sought to understand the emergence of modern markets, bureaucratic states, democracy, and global order as the four pillars of modernity. These themes remain central today and continue to produce some of the most exciting and most widely cited works in political science. These works are exciting for four reasons.

First, they are problem-driven and place contemporary issues in a historical context to elucidate more fully cross-national differences.

Second, they are interdisciplinary and invite a dialogue across disciplines, methodologies and theoretical perspectives.

Third, they are exploratory and seek to update existing explanations. They consequently maintain a more even balance between theorising and causal inference.

Fourth, they deal with time, which is one of the least explored dimensions in political science and poses some of the most challenging ontological problems for established methodologies.

CHA and the Centrality of Time

What makes CHA distinct in political science is its placement of time at the centre of its analysis. It stipulates that cross-national variations are frequently the result of differences in historical trajectories, sequences in how events developed, as well as the duration and tempi at which these events unfolded.

Paul Pierson slyly remarked that ignoring time in social inquiry produces results as unsatisfactory as cooking a meal without paying attention to the sequencing of adding ingredients and the duration of cooking them. Time, however, is complex; it is not a singular thing with well-established properties that fit easily into the more established frequentist and experimentalist methodologies. CHA consequently is less defined by specific, highly formalized techniques, that characterize more traditional methodologies, and more by a repertoire of analytical skills.

This course is built around five such skills that are necessary to effectively analyse time: time spotting, time differentiation, periodising historical time, configuring natural time, and temporal causal mechanisms.

  1. Time Spotting Theories vary greatly in their ontological presuppositions and hence the degree to which they background or foreground time. The ability to discern those ontological presuppositions thus is a crucial first step to spot time and start reflecting how it affects political outcomes.
  2. Differentiating Time CHA is built around two distinct notions of time: natural and historical time. Natural time focuses on the more objective, clock-like dimension of time like duration, tempo, or sequencing. Historical time, in turn, compares historical contexts to discern qualitative changes over time. The ability to differentiate these two notions of time is crucial to understand the ways different CHA scholars configure them in their analysis.
  3. Periodising Historical Time Using historical time requires that it be translated into clear temporal units of analysis used to compare historical contexts. This is accomplished through periodising historical time.
  4. Configuring Natural Time CHA uses elements of natural time to refine its analysis of historical time. It is important to understand the different configuration schemes that CHA employed to combine these two notions of time.
  5. Explaining Time Using historical and natural time serves to properly describe historical processes and cross-sectional temporal dynamics that ultimately also need to be explained. CHA employs a wide range of temporal causal mechanisms to explain macro-historical outcomes.

Applying Time The very modular nature of CHA requires an understanding how the prior five analytical skills can be combined and applied to produce analytically clear and causally robust explanations.

You should be familiar with one or more of the historically informed social science literatures, such as democratisation, origins of the state, historical sociology, diplomatic history, globalisation, American political development, historical institutionalism, varieties of capitalism.

Each course includes pre-course assignments, including readings and pre-recorded videos, as well as daily live lectures totalling at least three hours. The instructor will conduct live Q&A sessions and offer designated office hours for one-to-one consultations.

Please check your course format before registering.

Online courses

Live classes will be held daily for three hours on a video meeting platform, allowing you to interact with both the instructor and other participants in real-time. To avoid online fatigue, the course employs a pedagogy that includes small-group work, short and focused tasks, as well as troubleshooting exercises that utilise a variety of online applications to facilitate collaboration and engagement with the course content.

In-person courses

In-person courses will consist of daily three-hour classroom sessions, featuring a range of interactive in-class activities including short lectures, peer feedback, group exercises, and presentations.


This course description may be subject to subsequent adaptations (e.g. taking into account new developments in the field, participant demands, group size, etc.). Registered participants will be informed at the time of change.

By registering for this course, you confirm that you possess the knowledge required to follow it. The instructor will not teach these prerequisite items. If in doubt, please contact us before registering.

Day Topic Details
1 “Historical Method”(s): The Classic Roots of Recurrent Cleavages

1st session 9.00-10.30; 2nd session 11.00-12.30

2 New Institutional Economic History

1st session 9.00-10.30; 2nd session 11.00-12.30

3 Comparative Historical Analysis and Historical Institutionalism

1st session 9.00-10.30; 2nd session 11.00-12.30

4 Process-Tracing and International History

1st session 9.00-10.30; 2nd session 11.00-12.30

5 Interpretive Historical Sociology

1st session 9.00-10.30; 2nd session 11.00-12.30

Day 2 2.1. Theory & Time 2.2. Elements of Time

Time Spotting & Differentiating Time. The ability to spot time and differentiate its natural and historical dimensions is an acquired skill. For centuries, people believed that history followed a pattern of God-ordained, repeating cycles. Analogously, large segments of social science reduce history to a cycle of equilibria and disequilibria. Scholars like Paul Pierson, Charles Tilly, Ronald Aminzade, William Sewell, Eviatar Zeruvabel, Anna Gryzmala-Busse, Robert Merton, James Mahoney and many others have developed a conceptual repertoire that permits a broad differentiation of how CHA differs from none-CHA approaches. It also permits a more fine-grained differentiation of how various strands within CHA employ time.

Day 1 1.1. What Makes CHA Exciting? 1.2. Dimension of CHA

Relevance and Dimensions of CHA. We begin by reviewing CHA’s distinguished scholarly lineage and placing its contemporary contributions in a long-term intellectual context. This context elucidates the two key dimensions of CHA. First, the continuity of key themes, like the transformation of markets, social structures, states, political regimes, or international order that have and continue to reshape the broader context within which the more mundane, day-to-day politics unfolds. Second, each of these themes are deeply historical because they involve processes of change that make the present qualitatively different from but also highly interdependent with the past. Studying these themes from a historical perspective therefore is theoretically highly relevant.

Day 3 3.1. Analysing Historical Time 3.2. Analysing Natural Time

Periodisation and Natural Time. CHA borrows from historians the basic insight that the past is not just prior to the present but also different from it. It therefore focuses on historical time to compare different historical contexts and assess the degree of continuity and discontinuity that they share. This comparison of historical contexts requires truncating the past into manageable temporal units of time that are commonly referred to as periods. It requires a clear understanding of the criteria that CHA uses to guide its periodising. Furthermore, CHA also pays close attention to the length of such periods, the tempo at which they unfold, and in what sequence they occur across multiple cases. In doing so, they focus on a conception of time that is distinct from historical time, because it involves a more clock-like, objective dimension of time. I refer to this dimension as natural time. It therefore becomes important to explore how CHA configurates historical and natural time.

Day 4 4.1. Explaining CHA 4.2. Explaining Natural Time

Explaining Macro-Historical Outcomes. CHA favours a more exploratory mode of analysis that places equal emphasis on updating theories as it does on testing them. It judges the validity of its causal inferences not just against the robustness of its test results but also against the specificity of its theoretical predictions as well as their plausibility in light of prior research. CHA thus employs a more mechanistic mode of explanations that focuses on distinct temporal mechanisms. These mechanisms include increasing returns, decreasing returns, learning effects, tipping points, sequencing, layering, drift, or conversion. This section reviews these temporal mechanisms and discusses how CHA uses them to refine existing theories and differentiate itself from more strictly narrative modes of explanation.

Day 5 5.1. Explaining Historical Time 5.2. Student Projects

Applying Time. CHA is very modular and thus requires an understanding how its various building blocks can be combined. Students will be asked to apply the elements of CHA by selecting one of the three options. First, students can take an existing project of theirs (i.e. research paper, dissertation prospectus) and recast it in more explicit CHA terms. Second, students can propose or select from a list of CHA articles and explicate how the scholars configured the elements of CHA. Third, students can propose or select from a list of none-CHA articles and explicate how they background time and what implications such backgrounding has for the validity of their findings.

Full Course Syllabus

Day Readings

Auguste Comte, “The Positive Philosophy and the Study of Society” in Theories of History, ed. Patrick Gardiner (Glencoe, IL: Free Press, 1959), 73-79. Further selections from The Positive Philosophy of Auguste Comte, trans. Harriet Martineau (New York: Calvin Blanchard, 1858), 465-85.

John Stuart Mill, “Elucidations of the Science of History,” in Theories of History, ed. Patrick Gardiner (Glencoe, IL: Free Press, 1959), 82-105.

Fustel de Coulanges, Selections, in The Varieties of History: From Voltaire to the Present, ed. Fritz Stern (New York: Vintage Books, 1973), 178-90.

Charles-Victor Langlois, and Charles Seignobos, Introduction to the Study of History, trans. G. G. Berry (New York: Holt, 1903), selections.

Selections from Emile Durkheim, The Rules of Sociological Method and Selected Texts on Sociology and its Method, ed. Steven Lukes (New York: Free Press, 1982)


Johan Myhrman, and Barry R. Weingast, “Douglass C. North’s Contributions to Economics and Economic History,” Scandinavian Journal of Economics 96, no. 2 (1994): 185-93.

Douglass C. North, and Barry R. Weingast, “Constitutions and Commitment: The Evolution of Institutions Governing Public Choice in Seventeenth-Century England,” The Journal of Economic History 49, no. 4 (1989): 803-32.

Daron Acemoglu, Simon Johnson, and James A. Robinson, “Reversal of Fortune: Geography and Institutions in the Making of the Modern World Income Distribution,” The Quarterly Journal of Economics 117, no. 4 (2002): 1231-94. Daron Acemoglu, and James A. Robinson, Why Nations Fail: The Origins of Power, Prosperity, and Poverty (New York: Crown Business, 2012), chap. 1, chap. 3 (p. 70-87), chap. 4, chap. 15 (p. 428-46).


Theda Skocpol, and Margaret Somers, “The Uses of Comparative History in Macrosocial Inquiry,” 22, no. 2 (1980): 174-97.

James Mahoney, “Nominal, Ordinal, and Narrative Appraisal in Macrocausal Analysis,” American Journal of Sociology 104, no. 4 (1999): 1154-96.

James Mahoney and Dietrich Rueschemeyer, “Comparative Historical Analysis: Achievements and Agendas, in Comparative Historical Analysis in the Social Sciences, eds. Mahoney and Rueschemeyer (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2003), chap. 1.

James Mahoney, Colonialism and Post-Colonial Development: Spanish America in Comparative Perspective (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2010), xiii-xv, 1-34, 264-70.

Kathleen Thelen and James Mahoney, “Comparative-Historical Analysis in Contemporary Political Science,” in Advances in Comparative-Historical Analysis, eds. James Mahoney and Kathleen Thelen (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2015), chap. 1.  


Andrew Bennett, “Process-Tracing: A Bayesian Perspective,” in The Oxford Handbook of Political Methodology, eds. Janet M. Box-Steffensmeier, Henry E. Brady, and David Collier, (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2008), 702-21.

Derek Beach, and Rasmus Brun Pedersen, Process-Tracing Methods: Foundations and Guidelines (Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 2013), chap. 6.

Ian S. Lustick, “History, Historiography and Political Science: Multiple Historical Records and the Problem of Selection Bias,” American Political Science Review 90, no. 3 (1996): 605-18.

Course packet on Cuban Missile Crisis


Julia Adams, Elisabeth S. Clemens, and Ann Shola Orloff, “Social Theory, Modernity, and the Three Waves of Historical Sociology,“ in Remaking Modernity: Politics, History, and Sociology, eds. Adams, Clemens, and Orloff (Durham, NC: Duke UP, 2005), chap. 1.

William H. Sewell, Jr., “Theory, History, and Social Science,” in Logics of History: Social Theory and Social Transformation (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2005), chap. 1 (p. 1-18).

William H. Sewell, Jr., “Historical Events as Transformations of Structures: Inventing Revolution at the Bastille,” Theory and Society 25, no. 6 (1996): 841-81.

Simona Cerutti and Isabelle Grangaud, “Sources and Contextualizations: Comparing Eighteenth-Century North African and Western-European Institutions.” Comparative Studies in Society and History 59 (1): 5-33.

Day 1

1.1.  Jørgen Møller. State Formation, Regime Change and Economic Development (New York: Routledge, 2017):  12-28.
1.1. Mahoney, James, and Kathleen Thelen, eds. 2015. Advances in Comparative Historical Analysis: Resilience, Diversity, and Change. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press: 3-36.
1.2. William Sewell. 2005. Logics of History (Chicago: University of Chicago Press): 1-18.
1.2. Paul Pierson. 2004. Politics in Time (Princeton: Princeton University Press): 1-10. (Don't read 10-17 yet)

Day 2

2.1. Pierson, P. (2003). Big, Slow-Moving and Invisible: Macrosocial Processes in the Study of Comparative Politics. In J. Mahoney & D. Rueschemeyer (Eds.), Comparative Historical Analysis in the Social Sciences. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press: 177-80. [177-207].
2.1. Aminzade, R. (1992). Historical Sociology and Time. Sociological Methods and Research, 20(4), 456–480.
2.2. Bartolini, S. (1993). On Time and Comparative Research. Journal of Theoretical Politics, 5(2), 131–167. [Skim 136 till 139, skip 154-67]
2.2. Sorokin Pitirim A, & Merton Robert K. (1937). Social Time: a Methodological and Functional Analysis. American Journal of Sociology, 42(5), 615–629

Day 3

3.1. Bartolini, S. (1993). On Time and Comparative Research. Journal of Theoretical Politics, 5(2), 147-53.
3.1. Ekiert, G., & Hanson, S. E. (2003). Time, space, and institutional change in Central and Eastern Europe. In G. Ekiert & S. Hanson (Eds.), Capitalism and Democracy in Central and Eastern Europe Cambridge: Cambridge University Press: 1-30. [skip 31-48]
3.2. Falleti, T. G., & Mahoney, J. (2015). The Comparative Sequential Method. In J. E. Mahoney & K. Thelen (Eds.), Advances in Comparative Historical Analysis: Resilience, Diversity, and Change Cambridge: Cambridge University Press: 211-25 (skip 225 to 39)
3.2. Dan Slater and Eric Simmons. 2010. Informative Regress. Antecedent Conditions in Comparative Politics. Comparative Political Studies 43/7: 886-96. [Skip 897-917]

Day 4

4.1. Skocpol, Theda, and Margaret Somers. 1980. “The Uses of Comparative History in Macrosocial Inquiry.” Comparative Studies in Society and History 22(2): 174–197.
4.2. Falleti, T. G., & Mahoney, J. (2015). The Comparative Sequential Method. In J. E. Mahoney & K. Thelen (Eds.), Advances in Comparative Historical Analysis: Resilience, Diversity, and Change Cambridge: Cambridge University Press: 211-25 (skip 225 to 39)
4.2. Pierson, P. (2003). Big, Slow-Moving and Invisible: Macrosocial Processes in the Study of Comparative Politics. In J. Mahoney & D. Rueschemeyer (Eds.), Comparative Historical Analysis in the Social Sciences. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press: 177-207.

Day 5

5.1. Capoccia, G., & Ziblatt, D. (2010). The Historical Turn in Democratization Studies. Comparative Political Studies, 43(8–9), 931-68.
5.2. No readings. Final Projects Due

Software Requirements


Hardware Requirements



No additional

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Introduction to Qualitative Interpretive Methods
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