Comparative history is the comparison of different societies which existed during the same time period or shared similar cultural conditions. The comparative history of societies emerged as an important specialty among intellectuals in the Enlightenment in the 18th century, as typified by Montesquieu, Voltaire, Adam Smith, and others. Sociologists and economists in the 19th century often explored comparative history, as exemplified by Alexis de Tocqueville, Karl Marx, and Max Weber. In the first half of the 20th century, a large reading public followed the comparative histories of Oswald Spengler, Pitirim Sorokin, and Arnold J. Toynbee. Since the 1950s, however, comparative history has faded from the public view, and is now the domain of specialized scholars working independently. Recent exemplars of this approach include American sociologist Barrington Moore, historians Herbert E. Bolton and Carroll Quigley; British historians Arnold Toynbee and Geoffrey Barraclough; and German historian Oswald Spengler. Several sociologists are prominent in this field, including Max Weber, S. N. Eisenstadt, Seymour Martin Lipset, Charles Tilly, and Michael Mann.
Historians generally accept the comparison of particular institutions (banking, women's rights, ethnic identities) in different societies, but since the hostile reaction to Toynbee in the 1950s, generally do not pay much attention to sweeping comparative studies that cover wide swaths of the world over many centuries.
Atlantic history studies the Atlantic World in the early modern period. It is premised on the idea that, following the rise of sustained European contact with the New World in the 16th century, the continents that bordered the Atlantic Ocean—the Americas, Europe, and Africa—constituted a regional system or common sphere of economic and cultural exchange that can be studied as a totality.
Its theme is the complex interaction between Europe (especially Britain and France) and the New World colonies. It encompasses a wide range of demographic, social, economic, political, legal, military, intellectual and religious topics treated in comparative fashion by looking at both sides of the Atlantic. Religious revivals characterized Britain and Germany, as well as the First Great Awakening in the American colonies. Migration and race/slavery have been important topics.
Although a relatively new field, it has stimulated numerous studies of comparative history especially regarding ideas, colonialism, slavery, economic history, and political revolutions in the 18th century in North and South America, Europe and Africa.
Beginning with German and French sociologists of the late 19th century, modernization models have been developed to show the sequence of transitions from traditional to modern societies, and indeed to postmodern societies. This research flourished especially in the 1960s, with Princeton University setting up seminars that compared the modernization process in China, Japan, Russia and other nations.
Modernization theory and history have been explicitly used as guides for countries eager to develop rapidly, such as China. Indeed, modernization has been proposed as the most useful framework for World history in China, because as one of the developing countries that started late, "China's modernization has to be based on the experiences and lessons of other countries.".
The field of comparative history often overlaps with the subdivision of political science known as comparative politics. This includes "transnational" history  and sometimes also international history.
Historians have emphasized the need to stretch beyond battles and generals to do more comparative analysis.
The study of slavery in comparative perspective, ranging from the ancient world to the 19th century, has attracted numerous historians in recent years.
Much of Economic history in recent years has been done by model-building economists who show occasional interest in comparative data analysis. However more traditional research methodologies have been combined with econometrics, for example in the comparison of merchant guilds in Europe.
Since the work of Sorokin, scholars in comparative history, especially if sociologists and political scientists, have often used quantitative and statistical data to compare multiple societies on multiple dimensions. There have been some efforts made to build mathematical dynamic models, but these have not come into the mainstream comparative history.
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