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Synopsis

Natural Experiments in History grew, in a way, out of co-editor Jared Diamond's book Guns, Germs, and Steel: The Fates of Human Societies. In the earlier book, he spent a chapter looking at the Polynesian expansion as a near-perfect natural experiment in which a single ancestral Polynesian culture migrated to hundreds of islands in the Pacific Ocean, each with its own different geographic features. Because the culture that settled the islands was the same, any differences that developed between separate island societies could be largely attributed to the geography of the individual islands.

At the conclusion of Guns, Germs, and Steel, Diamond noted that there were many other such natural experiments in history, just waiting to be studied, and he called for historians to pick up where he left off and see what else could be learned. Of course, scholars have been using such natural experiments for a long time, especially in other disciplines like archaeology and anthropology, but they have not been as popular in historical scholarship. With Natural Experiments of History the editors and authors hope to illustrate how natural experiments can be used to bring the rigours of the hard sciences to historical scholarship, both in descriptive and statistics-based studies.

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