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The Uncertain Past: Probability and Other Approaches to Historical Uncertainty -04-05-06/07/2018, St


As historians we are constantly beset by uncertainty, especially in our attempts at quantification. Yet as a field we have spent relatively little time reflecting on the nature of uncertainty and our strategies for managing it. We have all had recourse to the language of likelihood, but our use of it tends to be largely rhetorical rather than being grounded in any quantification of uncertainty. Most scholarly debate focuses on disputing the best estimate of the actual value, rather than trying to assess the degree of uncertainty, i.e. the margin of error, in our estimates.vAlthough it is easy for ancient historians to believe that we face unique difficulties in our attempts to base estimates on subjective assessments of what is likely, we are in fact far from alone in the challenges we face. Many other fields in the social and natural sciences have wrestled with analogous problems for decades and have developed more sophisticated ways of working with subjective estimates. There is a whole field of study devoted to the elicitation of expert opinion, i.e. quantifying subjective beliefs. Meanwhile developments in the philosophy of probability and statistics have collapsed the apparently obvious contrast between the ‘subjective’ estimates of the historian and the ‘objective’ estimates of the scientist. In the increasingly influential ‘Bayesian’ interpretation of probability, probability is always a property of our information about the world rather than an objective property of the world.

FECHA/DATE/DATA: 04-05-06/07/2018

LUGAR/LOCATION/LUOGO: University of St Andrews (St Andrews, Scotland)


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