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In the early 1950’s, historians who studied preindustrial Europe (which we may define here as Europe in the period from roughly 1300 to 1800) began, for the first time in large numbers, to investigate more of the preindustrial European population than the 2 or 3 percent who comprised the political and social elite:the kings,generals, judges, nobles, bishops, and local magnates who had hitherto usually filled history books.

In the sentence above, what I do not understand is the part "to investigate more of the prehistorical European population than the 2 or 3 percent who comprised the political and social elite"; specifically, how to comprehend the "more of... than"?

  • Think of it as “more than” instead of “more of than.” – Xanne Jun 10 at 4:59
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More here is a fused determiner head - the noun it determines has been left out, and in this case has to be inferred, not taken directly from context. This is because the than... part of the comparative construction has percent as the term being compared, which is incompatible with more:

*more percent of... than the 2 or 3 percent who comprised...

So we have to interpret it something like:

a greater percentage of... than the 2 or 3 percent who comprised...

It could be reworded as:

...to investigate a percentage of the preindustrial European population greater than the 2 or 3 percent who comprised the political and social elite...

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