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The selection bias in court records: settlement and trial in eighteenth-century Ottoman Kastamonu


  • Metin M. Coşgel
  • Boğaç A. Ergene


type="main"> Court records are used extensively in historical research. Preserved as summaries of daily legal proceedings, they give historians a unique opportunity to access information about the names, characteristics, and socio-economic status of individuals and the laws, local customs, and legal institutions of societies. Although researchers have noted various limitations of these records, the problem of selection bias has not been systematically studied. Since litigants would probably settle disputes in which one side is likely to be a clear winner, the cases that go to trial are more likely to be the difficult and uncertain ones that comprise a non-random subset of all disputes. This article presents a study of selection bias in Ottoman courts in the town of Kastamonu in northern Anatolia, from the late seventeenth and the eighteenth centuries. Disputes are categorized by type and the distribution of court participants is studied according to composition, gender, and socio-religious status. A regression analysis is run to determine the factors affecting the likelihood of cases being tried in court. The results indicate that the cases that ended up in court were selected systematically. If the selection bias is ignored, research based on Ottoman court records may be seriously flawed in its ability to yield general conclusions.

Suggested Citation

  • Metin M. Coşgel & Boğaç A. Ergene, 2014. "The selection bias in court records: settlement and trial in eighteenth-century Ottoman Kastamonu," Economic History Review, Economic History Society, vol. 67(2), pages 517-534, May.
  • Handle: RePEc:bla:ehsrev:v:67:y:2014:i:2:p:517-534

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    References listed on IDEAS

    1. Timur Kuran, 2004. "The Economic Ascent of the Middle East’s Religious Minorities: The Role of Islamic Legal Pluralism," The Journal of Legal Studies, University of Chicago Press, vol. 33(2), pages 475-515, June.
    2. Peter Thompson, 2005. "Selection and Firm Survival: Evidence from the Shipbuilding Industry, 1825-1914," The Review of Economics and Statistics, MIT Press, vol. 87(1), pages 26-36, February.
    3. Huybens, Elisabeth & Jordan, Astrid Luce & Pratap, Sangeeta, 2005. "Financial Market Discipline in Early-Twentieth-Century Mexico," The Journal of Economic History, Cambridge University Press, vol. 65(03), pages 757-778, September.
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    5. Cooter, Robert D & Rubinfeld, Daniel L, 1989. "Economic Analysis of Legal Disputes and Their Resolution," Journal of Economic Literature, American Economic Association, vol. 27(3), pages 1067-1097, September.
    6. George L. Priest & Benjamin Klein, 1984. "The Selection of Disputes for Litigation," The Journal of Legal Studies, University of Chicago Press, vol. 13(1), pages 1-56, January.
    7. Timur Kuran & Scott Lustig, 2012. "Judicial Biases in Ottoman Istanbul: Islamic Justice and Its Compatibility with Modern Economic Life," Journal of Law and Economics, University of Chicago Press, vol. 55(3), pages 631-666.
    8. Brian Goff, 2006. "Supreme Court consensus and dissent: Estimating the role of the selection screen," Public Choice, Springer, vol. 127(3), pages 367-383, June.
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