Seshat: Global History Databank publishes first set of historical data


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Seshat world map

 

Seshat: Global History Databank has published its first batch of systematically coded and referenced data, which can be accessed at http://dacura.scss.tcd.ie/seshat/. Seshat, a large, online, open-access store of information about the human past, is a groundbreaking resource that is bringing together the most current and comprehensive body of knowledge about human history available.

Previously our collective knowledge of history remained scattered throughout various texts and isolated in the brains of individual historians. Seshat: Global History Databank gathers as much of this knowledge as possible into a single, large database that can be used to test scientific hypotheses about the evolution of human societies during the last 10,000 years. The Seshat Project works directly with academic experts on past societies who volunteer their knowledge on the political and social organization of human groups from the Neolithic to the modern period. We value our expert contributors and gratefully acknowledge the time they put into sharing their expertise with us.

Any scholars interested in studying the human past can use the extensive, high-quality, curated information in the Seshat Databank to help tackle Big Questions in cultural and social evolution. How did humans evolve from living in small tribes to huge empires and modern states? What are the roots of inequality? Why are some countries governed well, and others poorly? There are literally hundreds of theories that have been proposed by scholars in answer to such questions. However, until recently we didn’t have good data to systematically and rigorously assess them against a global sample of historical evidence. One of the aims of Seshat: Global History Databank is to provide a means for testing social science theories.

The first batch of data we are making available relates to the many dimensions of social complexity. These variables reflect some of the fundamental aspects of human societies, such as polity territorial size and population, settlement hierarchies, specialized government agents, civic infrastructure, money, writing, and information systems. These data describe states and pre-state political organizations that were located in eight regions of the world: Egypt, Italy, Hawaiʻi, Cambodia, Peru, Iceland, northern China, and western Africa, covering a wide temporal range from the earliest centralized societies in the fourth millennium BCE (in Egypt) all the way to the late nineteenth century (in China). Eventually, all data collected by the Seshat Project for the historical societies in the World Sample (over 300 societies from 34 different areas around the world, and counting) will be made available, completely free and openly accessible. Stay tuned for our next data release!

We are always looking for new experts to help us out. Experts can suggest changes to published data through our editing options, or can contact project coordinator Jill Levine (jlevine@evolution-institute.org) to volunteer to review or answer our questions about unpublished data.

Seshat: Global History Databank is governed by a Board of Directors: Prof. Peter Turchin (evolutionary anthropologist at the University of Connecticut and the Evolution Institute) Prof. Harvey Whitehouse (anthropologist at the University of Oxford), Dr. Pieter François (historian at the University of Hertfordshire), Dr. Thomas E. Currie (anthropologist at the University of Exeter), and Dr. Kevin C. Feeney (computer scientist at Trinity College Dublin). Funding for Seshat: Global History Databank comes from the John Templeton Foundation, the Economic and Social Research CouncilHorizon 2020, and the Tricoastal Foundation, among others. The Databank is a project of the Evolution Institute, a nonprofit think tank.

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