ICPSR – Erik Austin talks about the early years of the Consortium

ICPSR – Erik Austin talks about the early years of the Consortium


Warren Miller didn’t have any trouble
convincing scholars to use these resources. In the 1950s, the American National
Election Study was a very hot commodity. In 1960, the book co-authored
by Miller, Converse, Campbell, and Stokes, came out and revolutionized the
field of political science. Other political scientists had heard about
these marvelous survey data and clamored to get access. So a couple of seminars
were held in 1954-1958, at which the most recent election study was available for
these people to use, and they got hooked and they demanded mechanisms to allow
them to continue to have access beyond picking up their families and coming to
Ann Arbor for four weeks so they could work on the materials. So the
demand was there, the mechanisms had not really been tried before but Miller and
Campbell were experimenters of the first order and so they were able to come up
with these mechanisms. Demand had already been proven, and in fact it
went on that that kind of demand went on to revolutionize the field of political
science. There was a very bloody battle in the 60s and early 70s in political
science, which the behaviorists ended up winning. Not so in my discipline. There
was a very fervent group of behavioral or quantitative historians, they never
managed to become the principal paradigm in history. But those of us who were convinced didn’t let that get in our way and we
continued to use quantitative data and publish articles and books based on the
data, largely the data that we were collecting here at ICPSR. The American National Election Study was
not the only collection of data that were being assembled at various places,
largely at universities, rather than centrally as has happened in Europe with
federal government support. The materials for the quantitative study of
history were put together at the consortium thanks to funding that we got
from various foundations. In other cases, the surveys or data collections that
were put together remained at the institutions that employed the
principal investigators for those collections. And only rarely would they
share those with anybody else. But when the National Election Studies became
available, it was not only impolite but uncollegial for these scholars
possessing these data not to share them. So they began to donate their data to
the Consortium, in some cases after their arms had been twisted very severely. And
in a few cases, after their federal funding agencies told them that they
weren’t going to get any more money until they made their previous data
collections available. That seemed to work awfully well.

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