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The search for causal explanations of historical events lies at the heart of comparative studies.Given background variation, the main questions are which factors were crucial to observed developments, and how different contexts could produce similar outcomes (or vice versa).Their third variant, macro-causal analysis, employs comparisons for the purpose of making causal 1979).
Expert knowledge is required for all elements of the comparison, not just for the cases the researcher is familiar with.
With regard to comparisons between the ancient Mediterranean and ancient In practice, historical comparisons inevitably rely on a mixture of different approaches.
Comparative history is not about laws but about robust processes, defined as combinations of characteristic initial conditions that produce a particular outcome.
While these processes cannot generate precise predictions, the cross-cultural consistency of human behavior (currently a major issue in the debate between culturally and biologically oriented models of human nature) means that they may usefully imply probabilities of outcome.
1980 identifies two basic modes of enquiry: analytical comparisons between equivalent units involving the identification of independent variables that serve to explain common or contrasting patterns or occurrences; and illustrative comparisons, between equivalent units and a theory or concept, which evaluate evidence in relation to predictive theory rather than particular units in relation to one another.
The latter may aim for the confirmation of general sociological principles or more narrowly for the identification of rules for a group of cases (mid-level theory). The second method, contrast of contexts, applies comparisons to bring out the unique features of particular cases to show how these features affect the unfolding of putatively general social processes (e.g., Bendix 1977, 1978).
During the same period, in eastern Eurasia, the Warring States period (481-221 BCE) was characterized by intense competition among seven imperial states (Yan, Qi, Wei, Zhao, Han, Qin, and Chu), which were themselves the result of previous state consolidation in the Spring and Autumn period (770-481 BCE, with c.15 major states). While its western half was taken over by barbarian successor states (from about 400 CE onwards), a quintessentially Roman state survived in the East for another millennium (though much diminished from the 630s CE onwards).
Rapid unification was brought about by the Qin state (221-210 BCE) which soon turned into the Han empire (206 BCE to 220 CE), and then continued expansion into its tribal periphery (in the 2nd and 1st c. In , a similar division occurred soon after the end of the Han dynasty (following the short interlude of the Three Kingdoms from 220 to 265 CE and temporary reunification under the Western Jin from 280 to 304 CE) from 317 CE onwards.
Unlike parallel demonstration, which tends towards repetition, and contrast history, which tends to be more descriptive than explanatory, macro-causal analysis obviates the need to provide coherent narratives and makes it possible to focus on what is needed to address specific explanatory problems.
More recently, Goldstone (1991: 50-62) provided a succinct manifesto for comparative history.