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Quantitative Literacy

From the Domesday book to the US Census, historians have long practiced quantitative literacy, tapping demographic data, electoral records, tax rolls, and more as crucial evidence in their arguments. This information is often converted to databases, tables, and graphs in publications. In the words of the AHA, quantitative literacy is a skill that “allows historians to convey ideas not always best or more easily explained with words.”

More than using numbers as evidence for historical arguments, historians should also feel proficient developing grading schemes, reading student evaluation results, managing databases, and creating and analyzing budgets. PhDs whose research relies on statistics are encouraged to take an entry level course on the topic. But there are less-demanding opportunities to practice these skills: managing a Rackham Interdisciplinary Workshop and its budget; organizing a conference such as the Graduate Student Conference in American History; joining Excel or SPSS training sessions.

In the department, here are a few places to start thinking about quantitative literacy:

  • Internships: Work for a company, non-profit, or government agency using quantitative methods in daily work; available as an alternative to GSI assignments or during the spring-summer term
  • Career Diversified Seminars: Enroll in a seminar that uses quantitative sources to teach historical methodologies

Explore more sources and learn more about how the AHA conceptualizes quantitative literacy as one of its five career diversity skills.