Archaeologist Peter Peregrine recently sat down with me at the beautiful Santa Fe Institute. He explained how Seshat incorporates a wide variety of source material to accomplish a feat that has eluded scholars for decades–bridging the gap between history and prehistory. The resulting databank provides researchers and policy makers with powerful new tools to explore long-term historical trends with high-quality data. Watch Peter explain how this works.
Experiment estimates agricultural labor costs in Neolithic ChinaNovember 20, 2015
An archaeological research team led by University of Toronto Assistant Professor and Seshat expert Dr. Liye Xie conducted a set of controlled experiments to determine why ancient peoples in the Lower Yangzi Basin chose to use certain materials for construction projects and what the larger effects of those decisions were. Dr. Xie’s team developed these unique hands-on experiments to test what would have been the manufacturing costs, the durability, and the efficiency of using either stone- or bone-based tools to move massive quantities of earth in Neolithic China, roughly 6000-3000 BCE. By conducting their own experiments rather than trying to reconstruct what happened simply from the material remains themselves, the team was able to show how the different kind of tools worked under realistic conditions.
Cliodynamics explains history scientificallyNovember 18, 2015
Author: Daniel Mullins
Seshat overall coordinator Peter Turchin explains that Seshat: Global History Databank is an integral part of an exciting new scientific approach to historical research—Cliodynamics. The job of Cliodynamics, according to Peter, is to use the scientific method to produce the data necessary to empirically test competing theories. This is a two-step process:
Step 1: Translate rival verbal theories about historical processes into mathematical models and extract quantitative predictions from these models.
Step 2: Test these quantitative predictions using rich datasets like Seshat: Global History Databank.
Climate change: an ancient problem?November 16, 2015
Author: Daniel Hoyer
Without a doubt, global climate change is one of the biggest hot-button issues in the world today. The world is getting hotter, led mainly, we are told, by the ever-increasing burning of fossil fuels to power our modern lives. This has already started to affect many facets of our lives in major ways, from growing numbers and severity of droughts, hurricanes, and other severe weather, to crop failures and rising prices of necessary foodstuffs, to mounting tensions and threat of conflict around the world. This is not, of course, news. But what is surprising is that this story may also not be new.
Digital history and the future of the pastNovember 12, 2015
Historians Gather in Amsterdam to Coordinate Work in Digital History.
For two days in early November, historians from Europe and North America got together at the renowned International Institute for Social History (IISH) in Amsterdam, Netherlands for a workshop titled Big Questions, Big Ideas. I was invited to discuss the Seshat: Global History Databank by the organizers Leo Lucassen and Richard Zijdeman. The workshop brought together scholars working on a variety of topics and time periods, ranging as far back as the early Neolithic to the 1960s. The geographic areas of interest to these scholars were similarly broad, with studies spanning North and South America, northwest Europe, sub-Saharan Africa, China and Japan, and the Indian Ocean.
Rituals have glued societies together for millenniaNovember 9, 2015
Author: Daniel Mullins
Seshat founding editor Harvey Whitehouse believes that rituals make groups of individuals stick together. Collective rituals are a form of social glue. Different kinds of rituals produce different kinds of social commitments, he explains, ultimately influencing the size and internal structure of whole societies. Harvey recently sat down with me to describe how Seshat: Global History Databank can help researchers examine the role of rituals in binding communities together throughout human history.
The collapse of Egypt’s Old Kingdom was not caused by climatic changeNovember 5, 2015
Author: Jill Levine
Historians have long identified climatic change as a key factor in the collapse of Egypt’s Old Kingdom, when Egypt attained its first peak of civilization in 3rd millennium BC. Citing new and compelling evidence, French National Centre for Scientific Research (CNRS) director and Seshat expert Dr. Juan Carlos Moreno García argues that the first state in Egyptian history underwent a sociopolitical transformation marked by internal struggles within the kingdom, which in turn led to its fall. Contrary to traditions assumptions, García finds little evidence of a climate-related crisis and ample evidence of instability due to social and political turmoil, prompting him to rewrite our understanding of the Old Kingdom’s collapse.
Using history to build a better societyOctober 23, 2015
Seshat General Workshop, School of Anthropology and Museum Ethnography, Oxford University. October, 2015
Author: Daniel Mullins
How can we use the collective knowledge of thousands of researchers from around the globe to provide scientifically valid and meaningful solutions to humanity’s most pressing problems? A team of twenty archaeologists, historians, and anthropologists locked themselves in a room in Oxford University’s prestigious School of Anthropology and Museum Ethnography in early October to answer this question.
Historians without historyOctober 16, 2015
Archaeology Workshop, School of Anthropology and Museum Ethnography, Oxford University. October 8, 2015
Author: Daniel Hoyer
In early October, a group of archaeologists, historians, and anthropologists got together at the School of Anthropology and Museum Ethnography at Oxford University for a workshop organized by the Seshat: Global History Databank. The purpose of the meeting was to discuss the best ways to use archaeological material as a source of historical information to test predictions about the past. (more…)
Farming made us growOctober 16, 2015
Did the introduction of farming alone bring about large-scale societies or were additional factors necessary? Seshat editor for resources, agriculture, and population variables Thomas Currie notes the importance of changes in agricultural technology and productivity to the emergence of social complexity. Some argue that agriculture alone brought about the emergence of large and complex groups, Currie explains, while others contend that additional factors like warfare or new types of rituals were also needed to bring about these changes. Currie describes how – for the first time – Seshat: Global History Databank is providing the high-quality systematic historical information necessary to resolve this debate and many other long-standing questions about our past.