Cliometric Approaches to World War I in France

AHA Session 149
Friday, January 6, 2017: 3:30 PM-5:00 PM
Room 502 (Colorado Convention Center, Meeting Room Level)
Antoine Parent, Sciences Po Lyon

Session Abstract

Cliometrics applies the tools of economic analysis to the study of historical events. Research work in this field is usually characterized by (i) an explicit reference to economic theory, (ii) the use of large historical datasets, and (iii) the application of quantitative methods (including econometrics) to these data (Komlos and Eddie, 1997). Cliometricians make intensive use of multivariate regression techniques which allow to statistically isolate the effects of key variables in explaining historical facts.

This session composed of four papers is devoted to cliometric approaches to World War 1 in France. The celebration of the 100th anniversary of the conflict has sparked a revival of interest in the Great War. New databases have been made available to historians and social scientists. This offers the opportunity to explore new issues and questions in a quantitative perspective, using various analytical methods.

Addressing new issues about WW1 in France

The first paper of this session attempts to explain the differences between French regions in the number of military deaths during WW1. Beyond the role of demographic factors, this study examines the possible effects of economic, political, and spatial determinants. The purpose of the second paper is to explain the inter-individual differences in soldiers’ expected survival time at the front, with the emphasis being placed on the identification of contextual effects associated with the place of recruitment and the regiment. The third paper provides a statistical portrait of the French soldiers executed by firing squad. This paper also examines whether the variations in the number of executions over time were related to the intensity of engagements. Finally, the fourth paper focuses on French high command’s decisions regarding the strategy of mobilization. The aim is to assess the optimality of troop allocation in the ‘Plan Joffre XVII’.

Exploiting new French databases and sources

The first two papers of this session rely on data from the ‘Morts pour la France’ database of the French Ministry of Defense. This database contains more than 1.3 million records of soldiers who died for France during the Great War. These digitized records provide details on the personal and military characteristics of the soldiers, as well as on the circumstances of their death. The third paper is based on the ‘Shot in the First World War’ database of the Ministry of Defense. This newly accessible database contains information on around 1,000 soldiers and civilians sentenced to death and shot during the Great War (or summarily executed). The fourth paper exploits archival data on the ‘Plan Joffre XVII’.

Using various analytical methods

These studies employ different methodological approaches. In the first paper, the analysis is performed on data aggregated at the regional level. The second paper, by contrast, takes a microeconometric approach. The third paper uses methods of time-series analysis. The fourth paper employs the tools of operational research to analyze the distribution of French troops in the ‘Plan Joffre XVII’.

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