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 knowledgeable colleagues in an open, small meeting format. I enjoyed the chance to listen to and get feedback from my companions in the workshop who belong to a series of different disciplines, but who share a deep interest in Chinese history.

The Seshat project is an exciting and worthwhile enterprise gathering historical data on a global-scale. Despite the relative youth of the effort, considerable progress in data collection already has been made. Although some investigators potentially may quibble with elements of the sampling design and explicitly how the data are coded, the rationales for how things were implemented by the project are explicitly reasoned and make basic sense to me (especially when we take into account that this effort is still young).


Gary M. Feinman is an archaeologist, and curator of Mesoamerican, Central American, and East Asian Anthropology.

Given the comparative aims of the project, the broad spatial and temporal scopes investigated, and the uneven quality of the available data, some compromises and concessions in the structure of the archived materials are inevitable. Yet the aforementioned minor reservations are, in my opinion, more than compensated by the broad and expressly comparative approach enthusiastically and conscientiously adopted by Seshat. With ongoing disciplinary fragmentation/specialization and the decision by many scholars to eschew comparative research, it is my strong belief that we in historical and social scientific fields desperately need this kind of overarching, cooperative, comparative effort that crosses disciplinary boundaries and makes one key expressed goal the understanding of cross-cultural similarities as well as (and, perhaps, more significantly) differences regarding the paths of human history.

After attending the recent workshop, I look forward to continuing and strengthening my associations with the Seshat project and its core staff moving forward.

Dr. Gary Feinman is the MacArthur Curator of Anthropology at the Field Museum of Natural History in Chicago.

Notes for Editors: 

  • Find more information on Dr. Feinman’s work on Wikipedia and or contact Jill Levine via email
  • Seshat: Global History Databank is a large, international, multidisciplinary team of evolutionary scientists, historians, anthropologists, archaeologists, economists, and other social scientists. Our team includes scholars from various backgrounds, policy makers, and enthusiastic volunteers. Seshat is governed by an editorial board, who oversee work done by postdoctoral researchers, collaborators and consultants, and research assistants all over the world.
  • Cite this page: “Gary Feinman reflects on Seshat’s North China Workshop.”

Name *
Email *