Weighing the Fog of War: Illustrating the power of Bayesian methods for historical analysis through the battle of the Dogger Bank

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JournalHistorical Methods: A journal of quantitative and interdisciplinary history
DateE-pub ahead of print - 31 Mar 2016
DatePublished (current) - 31 Mar 2016
Issue number2
Volume49
Number of pages11
Pages (from-to)80-91
Early online date31/03/16
Original languageEnglish

Abstract

The application of scientific methods to historical situations is restricted by the existence of a single outcome with no possibility of repetition. However, new computational methods make quantitative historical analysis nevertheless possible. We apply methods of approximate Bayesian computation to simulate a naval engagement of the First World War, the Battle of the Dogger Bank. We demonstrate that the battle’s outcome was highly unlikely, with significant implications both for subsequent actions and for historical understanding. Dogger Bank exemplifies our view that Bayesian methods offer historians the tool they need to grapple with the evolving probabilities of historical events, giving a sound scientific basis for counterfactual history, and opening up a wealth of possibilities for analysis.

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