Harvey Whitehouse: Studying ritual may help us understand extremism

Why do people engage in self-sacrifice? Why would people adopt such an extreme behavior? Answering these questions has proven to be difficult for policy makers, world leaders, and academic researchers alike. Seshat founding editor and Oxford University scholar Professor Harvey Whitehouse recently offered several critical insights into the psychology of extremism at the IdeasLab session […]

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Prof Harvey Whitehouse introduces Seshat: Global History Databank at World Economic Forum annual meeting

Seshat founding editor and University of Oxford anthropologist Professor Harvey Whitehouse recently spoke about rituals and Seshat: Global History Databank at the World Economic Forum annual meeting in Davos, Switzerland. Whitehouse presented his research in a Betazone session in partnership with the Nature Publishing Group in a speech entitled “Why Facts Don’t Unify Us.” The […]

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Seshat is the premier tool to write longue-durée history and test social sciences theories comprehensively with historical data

A major paper on Seshat: Global History Databank has been published in Digital Humanities Quarterly. Lead author and Seshat founding editor Dr. Pieter François sees the publication as an important milestone in showcasing the potential of the project’s method to historians, digital humanists and the general public. I caught up with Dr François to discuss […]

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Testing the Axial Age

Last week the Seshat project ran a workshop on “Testing the Axial Age” in Oxford, UK. The workshop brought together a small group of scholars from different fields – historians, religious studies experts, archaeologists, and anthropologists. The goal was to discuss what exactly the ‘Axial Age’ means, and develop quantitative, data-based approaches to testing various […]

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A Call for the Development of Field Sites to Study Cultural Evolution

Seshat founding editor and Oxford University Professor Harvey Whitehouse, an anthropologist, and Seshat consultant and SUNY Binghamton Professor David Sloan Wilson, an evolutionary biologist, are both are members of the Cultural Evolution Society, which aims to “catalyze the study of cultural change from a modern evolutionary perspective, both inside and outside the Ivory Tower.” Wilson […]

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What Can Seshat Databank Do for Historians?

From the presentation by Peter Turchin, the Founding Editor and Overall Coordinator of Seshat Databank, at the annual American Historical Association meeting in Denver, CO; January 2017. Writing in 1999 in Perspectives on History Robert Darnton, who was the President of American Historical Association at the time, expressed the following opinion: After a century of […]

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New archaeological evidence proves Indus farmers grew rice in the Bronze Age

Seshat expert contributor and University of Cambridge fellow Dr. Cameron Petrie and colleagues recently unearthed evidence to confirm that the people of ancient Indus (modern-day Pakistan and northwest India) first practiced rice farming in the Bronze Age—much earlier than previously believed. The research was undertaken by the University of Cambridge’s Division of Archaeology along with […]

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Alliances and patron-client relationships: a fixture in both ancient and modern complex societies

Alliances and patron-client relationships have helped support states since the beginning of social complexity. In a recent Christian Science Monitor article, Seshat contributor and Santa Fe Institute external professor Paula Sabloff analyzed equal alliances and patron-client relationships. Sabloff’s research was part of a John Templeton Foundation-funded project at the Santa Fe Institute. The project examined […]

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Join me in supporting the Seshat Databank

Dear friends, lovers of history, and those who care about the world we live in: Please join me in supporting an international project that seeks to understand how human societies evolve. I am donating $10,000 from my book revenues this year to Seshat: Global History Databank, and I challenge you to also make a contribution! […]

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Seshat’s Harvey Whitehouse awarded European Research Council grant on “Ritual Modes”

Prof. Harvey Whitehouse and his team at Oxford University’s Institute of Cognitive and Evolutionary Anthropology have received an Advanced Grant from the European Research Council titled “Ritual Modes: Divergent modes of ritual, social cohesion, prosociality, and conflict.” This grant will enable Whitehouse to continue to investigate the links between ritual and social cohesion Whitehouse explained […]

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Seshat: A brief look at 150,000 data points

It has taken a long time – five years of data input and the assistance of many researchers – to acquire 150,000 sourced data points for the Seshat databank: an epic historical time series which incorporates hundreds of variables. Over this period the Seshat databank has overcome technical obstacles, refined its research methods, and at every […]

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Towards a comparative demographic archaeology

Modern governments regularly take detailed censuses to ensure that they have accurate information about population size and composition. In the UK the census in its near-to-modern form began in 1801 and has taken place every 10 years since, with the exception of 1941. Most industrialized countries have their own versions of censuses while others, such as […]

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New Scientist gives a history lesson on Seshat

One of the main motivations for developing Seshat is to use our store of coded information to cut through the tangled undergrowth of competing theories that has grown up around our understanding of human history. An article written by Laura Spinney just published in the latest issue of New Scientist does a nice job of bringing […]

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Can Science Show Us a Way To Stop Terrorism?

Last month, the Science network’s innovative documentary series Through The Wormhole debuted its seventh season with an with a provocative opening line: “We’re at war.” The episode, titled ‘What Makes a Terrorist?’, brings together anthropologists, behaviorists, and other scientists to explain why people would commit atrocious acts in the name of some cause. More importantly, […]

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Buddha, bandits and bondsmen: Some questions about ancient Javanese states

As a Seshat research assistant, I’ve been reading about the history of early Javanese states for several weeks now. In the mid-1st millennium CE, these self-proclaimed kingdoms began to emerge on the volcanic plateaus in the centre of the island. Rulers adopted Sanskrit titles and aspects of the religious traditions ‒ Buddhism, Shaivist and Vaishnavist […]

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Examining Social Complexity, Religion, and Prosociality in Southeast Asia and Beyond

Southeast Asia provides an important and fascinating window into understanding why human social formations became more complex over the last several millennia. Yet, much of the theorizing and analysis surrounding the evolution of complex societies around the globe has focused on evidence from regions such as the Middle East or Europe, meaning that scholars have […]

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The importance of Cliodynamics in a post-Brexit world

Why do politicians so often repeat their past mistakes when facing modern economic and political crises? Why does it prove so difficult time and time again to get people from different nationalities, different cultures to work together for the common good? It only brings harm when governments see no value in the lessons of history. […]

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Coding rituals: the example of modern Inti Raymi (Peru)

After the Seshat team cleaned ritual data in May, I was eager to see how our coding approach could apply to contemporary rituals. On 24th June, I travelled to the former capital of the Tawantinsuyu empire—Cusco, the Navel of the Universe—to attend the annual Inti Raymi festival. It is modelled after a famous Inka ritual […]

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Supersize my data

Notes from the Global Social Science Research Meeting, University of Pittsburgh, July 22-3 2016 We live in the Digital Age. The development of communications and research technologies in recent years have made the world smaller—travel and communication is faster, easier, and wider, connecting the world in ways never seen before. The flip-side to living in […]

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Visualizing values mismatch in the European Union

In my July 1 post, Brexit as Destructive Creation, I argued that one significant cause for the European dysfunction was the choice made by the European elites to expand the union too fast too far. Why do I think this was a mistake? As I have said on numerous occasions (in this blog and in […]

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Cultural diversity database D-PLACE officially launches

Researchers interested in cultural evolution often highlight the importance of taking cultural diversity seriously. Human cultural systems are quite diverse, they note, but much research suffers from a chronic form of tunnel vision. Without a comprehensive map of cultural diversity, researchers are likely to make false inferences from relatively homogenous sampling pools. We can’t see […]

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The evolving union of Europe: lessons from deep history

The outcome of the EU membership referendum in the UK is yet another example of a disintegrative trend in Europe that has spread over the last 5-10 years, argues Prof Peter Turchin in a recent blog post. What’s next? Turchin’s answer is quite radical, but will be familiar to anyone who has observed the technique […]

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Network science can be used to illuminate the laws of history

Austrian Academy of Science computational historian and Seshat contributor Johannes Preiser-Kapeller was recently interviewed by Technology Review on the use of network science in historical research. Network science can help us understand processes of very different natures that share the same network structure (the way that nodes are connected by links). Examples include the spread […]

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Garbage in? How we can improve the quality of historical data

A week ago the urban archaeologist Mike Smith wrote a scathing post about a new article in Nature.com’s journal Scientific Data. In the article, Meredith Reba and coworkers report on how they “spatialized” the dataset on urban settlements, based on previous publications by Tertius Chandler and George Modelski. As Smith writes in his blog, “The […]

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Why is political turbulence rising in America? An interview with Peter Turchin

The patterns of history can provide important clues for future political turmoil and the potential collapse of an empire. Seshat principal investigator Peter Turchin recently spoke to the IB Times about elite overproduction in the United States and what it means for the current political landscape. Elite overproduction is a phenomenon in which rapidly growing […]

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The link between ant agriculture and early social complexity

Farming was invented independently by ancient humans at least nine times in different regions throughout the globe. The invention of farming is linked by experts to the evolution of early social complexity. Here is a visualization of the original ancient centers of agriculture production: Millions of years before the first humans began farming, ants had […]

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Seshat contributors teach Academy Award winning actor about the origins of religion

In National Geographic’s The Story of God, host Morgan Freeman travels to Çatalhöyük, a Neolithic proto-city settlement in Anatolia, Turkey to investigate whether early farming civilizations believed in God. At the Çatalhöyük site, Freeman interviews two members of the Seshat: Global History Databank team, founding editor and University of Oxford anthropologist Prof. Harvey Whitehouse and […]

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“Once upon a time”: when did works of fiction appear around the world? Interrogating Seshat to make global historical comparisons.

Stories have seemingly always inspired people — examples such as the epic of Gilgamesh, 13th century Icelandic sagas, or Homer’s Iliad and Odyssey show us their apparently ubiquitous character. To what extent is storytelling a core part of the human experience? “If we begin to look at the emergence of written fiction in a comparative […]

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ALIGNED receives Cliodynamics funding from the Irish Research Council

ALIGNED has received funding from the Irish Research Council to help build the Cliodynamics research network. ALIGNED received an award from the Irish Research Council’s New Foundations scheme for “Cliodynamics Research Network Ireland II”. This award will support the building of an international interdisciplinary network of researchers who are interested in Cliodynamics – the study […]

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Victor Mair explains the linguistic origins of Archaic Chinese weapon terms

Seshat expert contributor and University of Pennsylvania professor Victor Mair recently published his fifth post in a series on reconstructing Old Sinitic (Archaic Chinese) terms for weapons. The posts are available on UPenn’s Language Log linguistics blog. Mair explores various themes in the series, including the Chinese translation of the term “Excalibur” and the origin […]

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Work with us: Seshat seeks Research Assistant

Applications are sought for the position of Research Assistant working on the project Axial-Age Religions and the Z-Curve of Human Egalitarianism. The successful applicant will be supervised by Prof. Peter Turchin. The project is funded by a John Templeton Foundation grant (http://www.templeton.org/) to the Evolution Institute (http://evolution-institute.org). The project brings together an international, interdisciplinary team […]

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Shared suffering, not religious dogma, may be the real cause of suicide attacks, argues Whitehouse

Prof Harvey Whitehouse, a Seshat Founding Editor at the University of Oxford, questions the widely held belief that extreme forms of sacrifice such as martyrdom are a consequence of a virulent religious dogmatism. Citing new anthropological evidence from around the globe, Whitehouse contends in his recent article in the Pacific Standard that extreme Islamist teachings may […]

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The Anatomy of a Seshat Fact

This week I gave a talk at the workshop, organized by Chris Chase-Dunn and Hiroko Inoue at the University of California in Riverside. The talk was about the current status of Seshat: Global History Databank. As I was preparing the talk, I read an article in the Atlantic about digital archaeology, Archaeology’s Information Revolution. Among […]

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Forget memes. You should be studying cultural evolution

Internet memes abound. Those active on social media will see dozens if not hundreds of them a day. The funniest internet memes are shared widely and old memes are often dusted off and adapted to new situations to take on a life of their own. Facebook and Twitter are currently overflowing with Donald Trump memes. Trump memes are […]

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The end of her-story: close-knit fraternal networks as an evolutionary response to powerful archaic women

Author: Edward Turner In Ultrasociety (2015) Peter Turchin memorably uses the label alpha male states to describe the first polities in history. This is, he says, because of their structural inequality with a “god-king” dominating cowering subjects; true, perhaps, but these societies weren’t literally dominated by men. Queens, priestesses and princesses held together the key […]

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A codebook view of history: reflections on working with Seshat

Author: Eva Brandl I am a graduate student in social anthropology at the University of Oxford and have been involved with Seshat: Global History Databank as a research assistant since the summer of 2015. Assistants conduct literature reviews, working with university collections and external databases such as the Human Relations Area Files compendium of ethnographic […]

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Help build Seshat: PhD opportunity at Trinity College Dublin

Seshat: Global History Databank and Trinity College Dublin seek applicants for a PhD studentship. Closing Date: 12 Noon on 4th March 2016 or until filled Post Status: 4 year PhD Studentship Department: ADAPT Centre, School of Computer Science and Statistics, Trinity College Dublin Benefits: Payment of  tax – free stipend and full academic fees for EU students and partial […]

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How we created an ultrasociety—six big questions answered

Author: Daniel Mullins Professor Turchin’s Ultrasociety constructs a new theory to produce an explanatory account of human history. He explains why historical events (e.g., the fall of the Roman Empire) make sense given what we know about how and why humans cooperate and compete in groups. Ultrasociety tells us not only what occurred, but why these things happened in the first place, not […]

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Book Review: “Ultrasociety: How 10,000 Years of War Made Humans the Greatest Cooperators on Earth.”

Author: Cameron K. Murray Professor Turchin’s new book Ultrasociety identifies the causal mechanisms hidden in the twists and turns of human civilisation by quantifying the rise and fall of empires. The book translates some of Turchin’s academic work on cliodynamics, making it accessible to the interested lay reader. What is cliodynamics? My best translation is […]

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From pristine state to mega-empire to People’s Republic: accounting for North China’s deep history through collaborate effort

North China Workshop, Tampa, Florida. January 15-17, 2016 Northern China stands one of the most important regions in world history. The fertile loess lands of the Middle Yellow River valley were among the world’s first regions to witness the Neolithic Revolution and the rise of complex societies; the Yangshao and Longshan cultures developed in the heart […]

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Gary Feinman reflects on Seshat’s North China Workshop

Author: Gary M. Feinman The North China Workshop held by Seshat was a great pleasure to attend. It was well organized and thoughtfully run. It afforded me a chance to avoid a few days of Chicago’s winter. Yet most importantly, it was a valued opportunity to meet and deepen acquaintances with a number of highly […]

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Seshat predictions featured in Cliodynamics journal

As humans, we are limited in the amount of knowledge that we can accumulate, access, and share. This is why we need Seshat: Global History Databank—a massive collection of information based on the collective work of thousands of scholars of human history. University of Oxford’s Dr. Harvey Whitehouse, University of Connecticut’s Dr. Peter Turchin, and […]

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How to predict a revolution using the center-periphery dissonance factor

Author: Jill Levine From Ukraine to Egypt to Venezuela, images of protest and revolution filled our streets and our screens in 2013 and 2014. The revolutionary wave was in the end quite weak, but the protests were similar in nature despite having no concrete links. Protests in Cairo, Kiev, and Bangkok led to the collapse […]

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