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Comparative Historical Analysis

Markus Kreuzer

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:

Course Dates and Times

Monday 15 ꟷ Friday 19 March 2021
2 hours of live teaching per day
14:00-17:00 CET

Prerequisite Knowledge

No formal prerequisites. You are unlikely to have had any formal training in CHA because its methodological tools are generally used in an implicit manner.

You will benefit most from this course if you have an interest in history, social or political change, or broad curiosity around the forces transforming our societies. Or, you might be familiar with one or more of the following literatures: comparative political economy, economic sociology/history, democratisation, development of the state, regime changes, origins of the welfare state, social movement, historical sociology, post-colonialism, global migration, gender/race studies, international political economy, security studies, global history.

Short Outline

This seminar-style course provides a highly interactive online teaching and learning environment, using state of the art online pedagogical tools. It is designed for a demanding audience (researchers, professional analysts, advanced students) and capped at a maximum of 12 participants so that the Instructor can cater to the specific needs of each individual.

Purpose of the course

The goal of this course is to give you an advanced understanding of the core elements of comparative historical analysis.

CHA is an umbrella term for a wide range of tools and techniques that scholars have long used to explore a wide range of macro-historical phenomena. Analysing such phenomena poses a distinct set of challenges for standard, more variance-based methodologies, which assume a static and ahistorical world. Those assumptions make it difficult to analyse phenomena like revolutions, waves of democratisation or democratic backsliding, economic crisis, wars, collapse of empires, or, more recently, pandemics.

Analysing such phenomena requires placing time at the centre of analysis to properly understand the temporal dynamics of such changes as well as the qualitative/historical changes that they produce. Consequently, this course aims to:

  • expand your temporal vocabulary
  • improve your ability to explore, describe and conceptualise not yet fully understood or emergent phenomena
  • develop theoretical explanations capable of addressing causal complexity.
ECTS Credits

3 credits Engage fully with class activities
4 credits Complete a post-class assignment

Long Course Outline

This course covers three broad topics

First, it conceptually differentiates two distinct notions of time used within CHA. Some CHA scholars focus more on elements of physical time (duration, tempo, timing, sequences) while others concentrate on historical time (focus on events, chronicling, periodisations, concepts, and qualitative changes over time). Our limited temporal literacy makes it difficult to think in those temporal categories. The course therefore engages in a number of exercises asking you to apply those temporal categories to a wide range of phenomena.

Second, it demonstrates the role these two notions of time played in the long tradition of CHA. It underscores how these notions of time require more complex understanding of causality, as well as causal inference strategies, than the one offered by variance-based and experimental approaches. It highlights the role of historical forms of causation, abduction, and process tracing as causal inference strategies most widely used in CHA.

Third, it discusses the methodological contributions of three variants of CHA: 

  • macro-causal analysis (time-spotting and theorising)
  • historical/eventful analysis (concept elucidation, periodisation, qualitative changes)
  • longue durée analysis (time series, trend analysis, natural experiments).

It discusses the distinct role these variants play in the large research cycles that characterise much of the CHA scholarship.

How the course will work online

The course employs a flipped classroom pedagogy. Each of the five daily modules will involve four to five ca. 10-minute pre-recorded lectures (e.g. for a daily total of no more than 60 minutes) as well as a set of readings. The lectures and readings will provide background information for the two daily hour-long discussion-based, synchronous seminars.

The recorded lectures and seminars will be linked together by:

  • brief diagnostic quizzes for each lecture so the Instructor can assess your mastery of the material
  • a discussion board for you to raise questions about lectures and readings
  • individual or group exercises applying the lecture and reading content to actual research problems.

These exercises will be carried out during seminar sessions, when we will also discuss the readings and the lecture material.

If you are already doing (at least) dissertation level research on macro-historical questions, you will be able to use your own projects in lieu of the in-class exercises.

Day Topic Details
1 CHA tradition and the centrality of time

Building on the Week 1 Introduction to Historical Methods course, we begin by reviewing CHA’s distinguished scholarly lineage and placing its contemporary contributions in a long-term intellectual context.

This lineage elucidates the three 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, the lineage illustrates the centrality of time in CHA because these themes are deeply historical, and their analysis requires close attention to timing, sequencing and other temporal dynamics.

Third, it highlights the differences between CHA and other variance-based forms of analysis that exogenise time.

2 Conceptualisations of time and varieties of CHA

While CHA has long acknowledged the centrality of time, it has inadequately differentiated between physical and historical time. We therefore conceptualise these two dimensions of time in order to formulate a clearer temporal vocabulary and develop a clearer appreciation that follows by taking time more seriously.

Physical and historical time also become the building blocks of three distinct strands of CHA: eventful, macro-causal, and longue durée analysis. Each of these strands employs a distinct set of analytical tools for answering macro-historical questions. 

3 Eventful analysis

Eventful analysis focuses on events that have specific dates and arrays those events into chronologies. These chronologies become the starting point from comparing historical contexts to figure out how the past is different from the present and at what particular moments that past underwent significant qualitative changes.

Eventful analysis employs periodisation schemes to break the past into continuities and discontinuities. It also uses events to describe and figure out what actually happened, formulate new research questions, and assess the temporal validity of concepts. 

4 Macro causal analysis

Macro-causal analysis uses both physical and historical time as heuristics to elongate the time horizon of what Paul Pierson called short/short explanations.

It employs a variety of time-spotting strategies to explore temporal confounders that background existing short/short explanations. It uses those confounders to update existing theories.

5 Longue durée analysis

Longue durée analysis is grounded in economic history and demographics, two disciplines that regularly use time series to analyse long-term, secular trends.

We explore the terminology used in time series and evaluate how it is and is not able to track historical changes. 

Day Readings

William Sewell (2005)
Logics of History pp.1–18
Chicago: University of Chicago Press

Jørgen Møller (2017)
State Formation, Regime Change and Economic Development pp.18–28
New York: Routledge

Marcus Kreuzer
Varieties of Time in Comparative Historical Analysis
In Klaus H. Goetz (ed.) The Oxford Handbook of Time and Politics
(Oxford University Press, Forthcoming)

Skocpol, Theda, and Margaret Somers (1980)
The Uses of Comparative History in Macrosocial Inquiry
Comparative Studies in Society and History 22(2): 174–197. 2.1


Ivan Ermakoff (2019)
Causality and History: Modes of Causal Investigation in Historical Social Science
Annual Review of Sociology (May): 1–12 [until section 'Genetic']

Capoccia, G., & Ziblatt, D. (2010)
The Historical Turn in Democratization Studies
Comparative Political Studies, 43(8–9), 931–68

Jason Scott Smith (1998)
The Strange History of the Decade: Modernity, Nostalgia, and the Perils of Periodization
Journal of Social History vol. 32/2 (Winter): 263–72 [Skim pages 269–72]

Soss, Joe (2018)
On Casing a Study versus Studying a Case
Qualitative and Multi-Method Research 16(1): 21–27

Richard Bensel (2004)
The American Ballot Box in the Mid-19th Century vii-xvii
Cambridge: Cambridge University Press


Re-read Skocpol and Sumers, particularly pp.181–87

Jørgen Møller (2017)
State Formation, Regime Change and Economic Development  pp.98–106 [Skocpol], pp.107–21 [State Formation]
New York: Routledge

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 pp.177–80 [177–207 optional]
Cambridge: Cambridge University Press

Ivan Ermakoff (2019)
Causality and History: Modes of Causal Investigation in Historical Social Science
Annual Review of Sociology (May): 12–17 [Start at section 'Genetic' and read till the end]


Sebastian Conrad (2016)
What is Global History? pp.141–61 [Time in Global History]
Princeton: Princeton University Press

Jørgen Møller (2017)
State Formation, Regime Change and Economic Development pp.139–50
New York: Routledge

Ian Morris (2013)
The Measure of Civilization pp.1–24
Princeton: Princeton University Press

Marcus Kreuzer & Vello Pettai
Time as Age: Stock Indicators, Block Indicators, and Party System Change (Working Paper)

Additional Information


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.