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Historisk tidskrift 133:3 • 2013

Innehåll (Contents) 2013:3

Uppsatser (Articles)


Retrogressiv metod. En översikt med exempel från historisk geografi och agrarhistoria

Olof Karsvall

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Retrogressive method. An overview of approaches in historical geography and agrarian history

It is still rare for historians to use sources from a more recent period to describe and analyse an earlier one. But when the paucity of contemporary sources can be supplemented by a richer and more extensive material from a later period this may be a useful method. The origin of this approach is Marc Bloch’s Méthode regressive dating from the early years of the twentieth century. In the Nordic countries, Bloch’s method influenced the works of Andreas Holmsen, Folke Dovring and Staffan Helmfrid, who was also influenced by German geography. It remains the case that the retrogressive method is conflated with the opposite approach, the so-called retrospective method, when older sources are used to interpret a more recent period.

Rather than the specific methods actually employed, discussions of the regressive method have mostly focused on the approach in general terms. In this article four different retrogressive methods are presented. The first is the qualitative morphological-genetic method, long used by historical geographers to analyze elements of the cultural landscape, such as agricultural practices and ownership patterns. From this method developed the geometric method. Two quantitative methods are the metrological and chorological methods used to analyze spatial patterns and anomalies in the landscape.

The article further discusses geographic analysis of spatial statistics, which is possible to investigate with the geometric and chorological approaches. This and similar applications are likely to become increasingly used as spatial data and research databases become available online. An illustration of the usefulness of the retrogressive method is provided from historical research on settlement patterns and abandoned farms.

Despite the problems of determining the relevance of later sources to the interpretation of earlier periods it is clear that the method is not only a complement to alternative approaches but in many cases a necessity. Indeed, by disregarding evidence from later periods the historian often risks ending up in a flawed analysis and imperfect conclusions.


historical method, retrogressive method, historical geography, agrarian history, chorology, settlement patterns