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What is Zinn’s criticism of cliometricians such as Robert Fogel and Stanley Engerman?

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Cliometricians are historians who study the past from the viewpoint of statisticians. Howard Zinn considers a statistical approach to understanding the past to fall far short of a complete understanding. Statistics might tell us how many slaves lived in a certain area and how many died at a young age. However, Zinn would argue, knowing this does not tell us of the trauma and anguish an individual might have felt by being forcefully separated from a family member. History is the story of people, Zinn argues, not a compiling of impersonal numbers and statistics.

Zinn also criticises cliometricians for manipulating the way that they report data to suit their argument. He specifically calls out Robert Fogel and Stanley Engerman for using a biased view of statistics to meet a certain agenda. Zinn cites their book Time on the Cross for using language that minimizes the abuse of slaves in America. Zinn points out the same data can be used to call attention to the very issues that the other historians passed over. When looked at this way, Zinn's main criticism might be that historians can hide behind the ostensible impartiality of statistics to make a decidedly biased or subjective argument.

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