Network science can be used to illuminate the laws of history


A visualization of network science. Source: Wikipedia

A visualization of network science. Source: Wikipedia

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 of disease and the size of forest fires. Network approaches have been used in fields like biology, computing, and telecommunications.

In a novel development, network science was applied to history as well. Dr. Preiser-Kapeller has reconstructed political networks in the Byzantine Empire in the 14th century and recorded how networks changed over time. His nodes and connections trace the connections between important political actors and details gleaned from their correspondence. When the political network fragmented, a civil war broke out that facilitated the empire’s collapse in 1453.

The fall of Constantinople. Painting by Theophilos Hatzimihail. Source: Wikipedia

The fall of Constantinople. Painting by Theophilos Hatzimihail. Source: Wikipedia

Dr. Preiser-Kapeller then compared the patterns he found in the Byzantine Empire to other periods of medieval conflict in Europe, Africa, and Asia. He found that an executive power transfer (or upheaval) was more likely in all periods when one of these power transfers occurred the previous year.

Read more on the laws of history and Dr. Preiser-Kapeller’s work in computational history here.

 

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