Historical plagues led to revolutions – could coronavirus do the same? by Laura Spinney (New Scientist)
From an Ancient Egyptian plague to the Black Death and Spanish flu, epidemics have often spurred societal transformations. Understanding why can help us create a better world after covid-19
media relating to publication of Disentangling the evolutionary drivers of social complexity: A comprehensive test of hypotheses
How did complex human societies evolve? Empirical study backs theories citing agriculture, violent conflict. By Amy McDermott (PNAS)
In just the last 10,000 years, hunter-gatherers settled down and built villages, then city-states, and then empires. The drivers of these leaps in social complexity have been a subject of debate in the fields of history, anthropology, and philosophy for more than a century. Dozens of theories posit possible factors. But the debate over which are most important has been largely qualitative. A recent study in Science Advances is among the first to quantitatively test more than 15 such theories.
Does warfare make societies more complex? Controversial study says yes, Michael Price (Science)
Archaeological analysis suggests an arms race in ironworking and cavalry spurred bureaucracy and bigger populations
Was warfare responsible for the origin of complex civilisation?, Colin Barras (New Scientist)
An effort to track global changes in human society over the past 10,000 years concludes that warfare drove an increase in social complexity – but others are unconvinced by the work
Can history teach us anything about the future of war – and peace? by Laura Spinney (The Guardian)
Others think the statistics can be informative. Gronenborn’s work is feeding into larger scale efforts to identify and explain patterns in collective violence. One such effort is the Historical Peace Index (HPI), a collaboration between Oxford University and the group behind Seshat: Global History Databank – a scientific research project of the nonprofit Evolution Institute – to map warfare globally over the past 5,000 years. Their goal, as the name suggests, is to try to understand the causes and consequences of war, with a view to building more peaceful and stable societies.
media relating to publication of Rise of the War Machines:
- Phys.org; Verve Times; Ancient Origin; Big Think; Scientific American Arabic Edition; Fuentitech; Eurasia Review; Periodico el nuevo mundo; Knowledia US; News Concerns; Rossiskaya Gazeta; Cursor Info; scimex; RealClear Science; Haptic; Mirage News; Samachar Central; Knowledia US
Daniel Hoyer – Figuring Out the Past: The 3,495 Vital Statistics that Explain World History (The Dissenter, episode #496)
Guest Dr. Daniel Hoyer, Senior Project Manager, Seshat: Global History Databank and co-author of Figuring Out the Past: The 3,495 Vital Statistics that Explain World History is interviewed by Ricardo Lopes of the Dissenter
We’re on the verge of breakdown: a data scientist’s take on Trump and Biden by Edward Helmore (The Guardian)
Peter Turchin is not the first entomologist to cross over to human behaviour: during a lecture in 1975, famed biologist E.O. Wilson had a pitcher of water tipped on him for extrapolating the study of ant social structures to our own. It’s a reaction that Turchin, an expert-on-pine-beetles-turned-data-scientist and modeller, has yet to experience. But his studies at the University of Connecticut into how human societies evolve have lately gained wider currency; in particular, an analysis that interprets worsening social unrest in the 2020s as an intra-elite battle for wealth and status.
Peter Turchin: The Magnetism of Mathematical History by Enza Jonas-Giugni (Science Survey)
The chaos of 2020 launched Peter Turchin from relative obscurity into the spotlight. In 2010, Turchin made the startling prediction that “the next decade is likely to be a period of growing instability in the United States and western Europe,” a statement which he supported with statistical data analysis of past historical trends.
The astonishing accuracy of his foresight, substantiated by the tumultuous socio-political events of this past year, have given rise to his sudden notoriety. Turchin’s mathematical history — a field coined “cliodynamics” — has now ascended into the realm of academic renown, captivating audiences with its ability to anticipate the future.
How did the craziness of 2020 get predicted back in 2012? (Scott Radley Show radio interview)
Approximately 8 years ago, there was a projection made that in 2020 there would be some form of upheaval that we would go through. How could a theory like this be made so long ago and if it could predict what’s happening now, what’s coming next? Guest: Dr. Dan Hoyer, Senior Project Manager, Seshat: Global History Databank
America, We Have a Problem by Thomas B. Edsall (New York Times)
Turchin, in a 2017 book, “Ages of Discord: A Structural-Demographic Analysis of American History,” graphed political stress in this country, showing that from 1970 to 2012 it shot up sharply, increasing fortyfold. In the eight years since then, stress has continued to surge, Goldstone wrote, “as income inequality, political polarization and state debt have all risen further.”
Big Data and History Interview with Dan Snow (Dan Snow’s History Hit podcast)
Dan Hoyer and Peter Turchin joined me on the podcast to talk about the new transdisciplinary field of Cliodynamics, which uses the tools of complexity science and cultural evolution to study the dynamics of historical empires and modern nation-states.
The real class war is within the rich by Janan Ganesh (Financial Times)
Peter Turchin, the academic of the moment, does more than that. He quantifies, cross-refers with other variables and arrives at a theory. Of all the reasons adduced for the political strife of our time, few are as novel as his stress on “elite overproduction”. Graduates have multiplied faster than the room at the top, he says, with the “lawyer glut” being especially gross. The result is a stock of nearly-men and women whose relationship with their own class sours from peripheral membership to vicious resentment. If this coincides with a bad time for the general standard of living, there is an alliance to be formed between these snubbed insiders and the more legitimately aggrieved masses.
The Next Decade Could Be Even Worse by Graeme Wood (The Atlantic)
To seed the journal’s research, Turchin masterminded a digital archive of historical and archaeological data. The coding of its records requires finesse, he told me, because (for example) the method of determining the size of the elite-aspirant class of medieval France might differ from the measure of the same class in the present-day United States. (For medieval France, a proxy is the membership in its noble class, which became glutted with second and third sons who had no castles or manors to rule over. One American proxy, Turchin says, is the number of lawyers.) But once the data are entered, after vetting by Turchin and specialists in the historical period under review, they offer quick and powerful suggestions about historical phenomena.
Information technology played key role in growth of ancient civilizations by Will Ferguson (Science Daily)
For their study, Kohler and colleagues at the Santa Fe Institute set out to discover more about the role information technology played in the growth of human societies from the Neolithic to the last millennium.
They dug into what’s called the Seshat Global History Databank, a massive assembly of historical and archaeological information spanning more than 400 societies, six continents and 10,000 years of human history.
The databank enabled the researchers to quantitatively analyze things like how large were civilizations when they developed writing, systems of coinage and other innovations in information processing and what were the effects of these advances on the growth of the overall state.
Information drove development of early states (Phys.org) Link
When did societies become modern? ‘Big history’ dashes popular idea of Axial Age by Laura Spinney (Nature)
It’s an idea that has been influential for more than 200 years: around the middle of the first millennium BC, humanity passed through a psychological watershed and became modern. This ‘Axial Age’ transformed an archaic world of divine rulers, slavery and human sacrifice into a more enlightened era that valued social justice, family values and the rule of law. The appeal of the general concept is such that some have claimed humanity is now experiencing a second Axial Age driven by rapid population growth and technological change. Yet according to the largest ever cross-cultural survey of historical and archaeological data, the first of these ages never happened — or at least unfolded differently from the originally proposed narrative.
This article was republished by TiaSang (in Vietnamese).
Prognosestress by Michael Moorstedt (Süddeutsche Zeitung)
Benannt ist das Projekt nach Seschat, der ägyptischen Schutzgottheit der Buchhalter und des Ahnenkults. Mithilfe der hier zusammengetragenen Informationen über mehr als 400 menschliche Gesellschaften vom Neolithikum bis ins Industriezeitalter sollen Formeln gefunden werden, die es im besten Fall ermöglichen, Konflikte in Zukunft ähnlich verlässlich vorhersagen zu können wie das Wetter; vielleicht noch mit einem Rat versehen, wie man diese Konflikte vermeiden kann.
History as a giant data set: how analysing the past could help save the future by Laura Spinney (The Guardian)
Calculating the patterns and cycles of the past could lead us to a better understanding of history. Could it also help us prevent a looming crisis?
This article was also published in Chinese
La modélisation de l’histoire prédit un cycle de crises dès 2020 by Odile Romelot (Slate.fr)
Collecter, analyser et interpréter des données historiques est ce qui anime Peter Turchin, un biologiste qui se servait autrefois des mathématiques pour matérialiser les interactions entre proies et prédateurs, rapporte Laura Spinney dans un article du Guardian. En 2010, Turchin estimait que l’instabilité politique croissante atteindrait son paroxysme en 2020 aux États-Unis et en Europe. L’humanité traversant des phases de croissance et de déclin, 2020 signerait le début d’un cycle de crises. L’argument n’est pas nouveau, mais il s’appuie sur une analyse précise de différents facteurs tels que l’augmentation des inégalités et de la dette publique. Et surtout, il a le mérite d’avoir semble-t-il visé juste, alors que Trump risque d’être destitué et que le Royaume-Uni est englué dans un Brexit sans fin.
Cliodynamics: can we use history to forecast the future? (The Week)
Could gathering data from the past help us prevent a future disaster? An evolutionary anthropologist at the University of Connecticut has dedicated his career to answering this question.
Professor Peter Turchin founded a new field of academic study called cliodynamics in 2003, and then set up a research consortium eight years later to build a huge historical database called Seshat in a bid to uncover major patterns in world history.
Théorie de L’Effondrement: Notre civilisation peut-elle vraiment daiparaître? by Vincent Nouyrigat (Science et Vie)
Vers la fin de notre monde? Et si, apèes les Romains ou les Mayas, c’était à notre tour? Alors que climat, ressources et écosystèmes sont en surchauffe, les chercheurs tentent de repousser le point critique au-delà duquel notre société atte1ndra1t un point de non-retour.
How belief in punitive gods may have helped large societies cooperate by Chelsea Whyte (New Scientist)
This may mean that belief in a punitive god could make people more willing to share resources across a large society. “Religion created a sense of us versus them and as societies grew into empires that must have been a very important factor in keeping them cohesive,” says Peter Turchin at the University of Connecticut. While the experiments show that punitive gods may influence human cooperation, it may also work the other way around. Turchin says his research into historical societies shows that belief in punitive gods tends to arise after the appearance of large-scale societies. Today, punitive gods play no role in some highly cooperative societies, he says. “This is because other social technologies play the same role, such as very persuasive bureaucratic control or social control by neighbours.”
Cómo lograr la paz en el mundo con ayuda del big data (La Razón)
Aprender de la Historia gracias al análisis de datos para conseguir la paz mundial. Este es el objetivo de la Universidad de Oxford y el Instituto para la Economía y la Paz, que quieren establecer los mecanismos necesarios para lograr la paz, de la mano de la tecnología big data de la startup irlandesa DataChemist, especializada en retail y finanzas.
Esta startup analizará datos históricos recopilados a través de la Seshat: Global History Databank para que los investigadores rastreen las combinaciones de factores para vivir en armonía. En definitiva, se busca la forma más objetiva de aprender del pasado para planificar mejor para el futuro.
Dublin start-up chosen to work on global peace initiative by Colin Gleeson (The Irish Times)
A Dublin-based start-up has been selected to provide technology for a project that is seeking to map global peace and provide evidence-based insight into how it might be cultivated in the future.
DataChemist was chosen by the Institute of Economics and Peace (IEP) and the University of Oxford to work on the Historical Peace Index, which uses historical data gathered through the Seshat: Global History Databank.
DataChemist Supports Global Initiative to Promote and Understand Peace Through Data Analysis (Irish Tech News)
DataChemist, the leader in deriving insight from data, has been selected by the Institute of Economics and Peace (IEP) and the University of Oxford as the technology powering an ambitious project to “learn from history” and help promote the conditions for a peaceful planet in the future.
This Historical Peace Index uses cutting-edge statistical methods and robust historical data gathered through the Seshat: Global History Databank, a world leader in gathering, organizing, and learning the lessons of our shared past. The chief goal of the project is to map Global Peace over thousands of years, and provide evidence-based insight into how to improve Global Peace in the future. The project gathers and analyzes a huge range of historical data relating to social structures, politics, and economics over the past 5,000 years. It provides a comprehensive view of history that brings the power of ‘big data’ to understanding peace and the conditions that encourage peace.
Our Unfinished Agenda (What I Have Learned) by Timothy A. Kohler (The SAA Archaeological Record)
My second example comes from a recent analysis of a large historical and archaeological dataset called “Seshat: Global History Databank” (http://seshatdatabank.info) amassed and analyzed for 30 regions of the world spanning the last 10,000 years by Peter Turchin and numerous colleagues (2018). These researchers coded data on 51 variables for each of these regions (selected to be relatively independent of each other) by 100-year time slices. They consider these variables to fall within nine large clusters that they call “complexity characteristics.”
L’histoire déchiffrée grâce à la science des données by Alexis Riopel (Quebec Science)
Notre but est de comprendre, avec des techniques mathématiques, comment les sociétés humaines évoluent », explique Thomas Currie, anthropologue à l’université d’Exeter, au Royaume-Uni, qui est l’un des coordonnateurs de Seshat. En décembre 2017, Seshat publiait sa première grande étude dans Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. « Cet article est fondateur, déclare Peter Turchin, professeur à l’université du Connecticut et codirecteur de Seshat. On y définit la variable qui correspond à la complexité d’une société.
Did Human Sacrifice Help People Form Complex Societies? by Laura Spinney (The Atlantic)
The results coming out of Seshat—which have yet to be published—suggest that social control may not be the whole story, however. No society in Pulotu comprises more than a million people, while Seshat includes “mega-empires” whose subjects numbered in the tens of millions. Seshat’s founders therefore argue that it tracks social complexity closer to modern levels, and they find that, beyond around 100,000 people, human sacrifice becomes a destabilizing force. “Our suggestion is that this particularly pernicious form of inequality isn’t sustainable as societies get more complex,” says Whitehouse. “It disappears once they pass certain thresholds, because they cannot survive with that level of injustice.”
Human Sacrifice Was the Key to Social Evolution, New Study Says by Andrew Lasane (Outer Places)
University of Oxford anthropologist Harvey Whitehouse and his team have developed a separate database (Seshat) that approaches the subject from a different angle.
Whitehouse says that it is better to cast a wider net and test theories against the data, instead of focusing on data that may already support a theory. Seshat includes data from 400 different historical societies and goes back 10,000 years.
How societies become complex (CSH Vienna Newsletter)
This constantly growing open access database – it can be downloaded for statistical analyses by anybody interested in this field – unites archaeological, historical and anthropological data from more than 30 regions and all kinds of societies worldwide and through periods, beginning with small hunter-gatherer groups and kinships, up to large empires.
L’evoluzione predicibile delle società umane (Pikaia)
Le diverse società umane in tutto il mondo, intese come raggruppamenti di esseri umani dotati di gerarchia dei compiti, infrastrutture e un sistema di diffusione delle informazioni, mostrerebbero modalità simili di sviluppo indipendentemente dalla loro collocazione geografica e dal periodo di sviluppo temporale. A dichiararlo, uno studio pubblicato su PNAS da un team internazionale di ricercatori guidato da Peter Turchin dell’Università del Connecticut.
Trinity data behind new research which suggests common path governed evolution of societies (Irish Examiner)
Scientific historians, using data collected via a platform developed at Trinity College Dublin, have today published a report suggesting that a single dimension of ‘social complexity’ measures the development of around 400 past societies that existed over the last 10,000 years.
The data used in this project come from the Seshat: Global History Databank, directed by Peter Turchin, Harvey Whitehouse, Pieter Francois, Thomas Currie, and Kevin Feeney.
The Seshat project gathers information from past societies in order to rigorously test different hypotheses about the rise and fall of large-scale societies across the globe, and over the course of human history. Seshat seeks to bring together in one place the largest collection of data on our shared human past that has ever been assembled.
China To Rome: Human Societies Have Evolved Along Similar Paths (ScienceBlog)
Societies ranging from ancient Rome and the Inca empire to modern Britain and China have evolved along similar paths, a huge new study shows.
Despite their many differences, societies tend to become more complex in “highly predictable” ways, researchers said.
L’évolution des sociétés humaines suivrait des lois générales by Roman Ikonicoff (Science & Vie)
Les chercheurs, plus d’une cinquantaine, ont d’abord constitué une base de données archéologique et historique regroupant toute les informations connues sur 414 sociétés, actuelles et passées, couvrant la période de 10 000 ans et l’ensemble de Globe (découpé en 30 régions).
L’étendue et la nature de cette base de données, nommée “Seshat: Global History Databank“, est déjà en-soi un exploit scientifique : elle est la plus complète et large du genre, mêlant informations venant d’une multitude de domaines des sciences dures et sociales.
Οι ανθρώπινες κοινωνίες σύμφωνα με μελέτη φαίνεται να εξελίσσονται ακολουθώντας παρόμοιες διαδρομές (Alfa Vita) Link (in Greek)
Der Entwicklung komplexer Gesellschaften auf der Spur (der Standard) Link (in German)
Politisch geeint agieren hilft der Gesellschaft (Die Presse) Link (in German)
Societies Evolve Along Similar Paths (New Historian) Link
Internationaal Seshat-project wil geschiedenis uit hokjesdenken halen by Dirk Draulans (Knack)
De Vlaamse historicus Pieter François, verbonden aan Oxford University, is een van de initiatiefnemers achter Seshat, een multidisciplinair platform dat antwoord wil bieden op de grote vragen van de menselijke evolutie. ‘Wij willen geschiedenis weer relevanter maken.’
Inequality Through the Ages by Ignatius Barnardt (The Barcelona GSE Voice)
With a view to distinguishing between such rival hypotheses, Prof. Turchin is involved in building a global historical database of cultural evolution, Seshat, with the aim of collating data from diverse sources on the sociopolitical organisation of human societies from the earliest times up to the present.
Passato e futuro sono el cervellone (Focus, February, 292, pp. 128-133)
Lo Sapevate Che: La storia è maestra? Con l’aiuto dei big data lo sarà di più (Ricette culinarie e vita quotidiana)
Interrogare la storia in modo nuovo, sfruttando il potere e gli algoritmi dei Big Data per cercare analogie e schemi ricorrenti tra eventi anche lontanissimi nel tempo, può aiutarci a trarre lezioni inedite e utili per il futuro. È questo l’assunto del progetto Seshat, dal nome della dea egizia della conoscenza, che si propone di catalogare su computer i più rilevanti dati relativi alle società umane dal Neolitico a oggi in un formato che renda possibili confronti di ogni tipo, anche i più inconsueti, per esempio tra l’impero britannico della regina Vittoria e l’Atene di Pericle.
Seshat, vers un « massacre des théories » historiques? by Rémi Sussan (Internet Actu)
“Selon le New Scientist, Seshat est une réponse possible à l’accumulation des data qui a transformé la profession des historiens, et pas forcément dans le sens de la facilité. Selon le magazine, cette brusque augmentation des informations a amené la plupart des spécialistes du domaine à travailler isolément : qui sur la démographie, qui sur les institutions, qui sur la religion, etc. Tant et si bien qu’il devient très difficile de percevoir les schémas globaux. De plus si certains patterns historiques sont assez évidents, d’autres sont bien plus masqués et ne peuvent se révéler que lorsqu’on associe plusieurs sources.
L’un des premiers buts de Seshat sera de vérifier des hypothèses, et éliminer les moins vraisemblables. Son objectif, pour employer l’expression de Turchin, sera de procéder à un « massacre des théories », autrement dit à une large série de réfutations d’hypothèses sur les différents aspects des civilisations.”
If you do the maths the history starts to add up by Oliver Moody (The Times)
Seshat, a vast historical data project that is about start turning out its first papers, aims to do the same with a few lines of code. It is, essentially, a giant machine for turning hundreds of thousands of “facts”- where the ancient Britons polythestic? Did the Mayans practise crop rotation?- into models in which researchers can compute how important different factors were in historical events.
The article was republished by The Australian under the headline Science proves bestsellers are made up of the sum of their parts.
Le numérique peut-il améliorer les démocraties? by Olivier Ezratty (FrenchWeb)
On peut notamment citer la Seshat History Databank, un projet anglo-américain lancé en 2010, qui ambitionne de consolider dans une base de donnée l’histoire de l’humanité en s’appuyant sur une communauté d’experts. Une belle source d’information comprenant pour l’instant 147 000 données organisées suivant les standards du web sémantique, pouvant ensuite être exploitée à la fois manuellement et par des moteurs d’IA utilisant un mélange de système expert, de logique floue et de deep learning permettant de répondre à des questions telles que celles qui portent sur le développement économique des sociétés, sur le commerce international, sur l’impact du climat ou sur l’émergence et le déclin des démocraties. L’analyse de l’histoire reposant sur l’identification de «patterns» et de relations de causalités entre événements, l’IA est un outil parfaitement adapté pour la décrypter à grande échelle!
The database that is rewriting history to predict the future by Laura Spinney (New Scientist)
Seshat is a vast and growing database of historical and archaeological knowledge that can be explored using scientific techniques. That makes it a powerful tool for testing and ultimately discarding hypotheses. “A cemetery for theories,” is how Seshat co-founder Peter Turchin at the University of Connecticut in Storrs describes it. By making history more evidence-based, he and his colleagues hope it will become more relevant.
Through the Wormhole, Season 1, Episode 7
Morgan Freeman interviews Peter Turchin on the Seshat project and his related work. (Segment starts at 41:41)
Trinity big data researchers to lead €4m quality control effort by Dick Ahlstrom (The Irish Times)
Another intriguing project that already involves Dr Feeney and colleagues at Leipzig University relates to the international Seshat Global History Databank project. It has the ambitious goal to bring together everything we know about every human society that ever existed from now back to prehistory.
The project began three years ago and has already assembled 30,000 data points and Dr Feeney serves as the technical editor for the Seshat project.
Poznańscy archeolodzy kodują pradzieje (Nauka wPolsce)
“Seshat. Global History Databank” jest innowacyjną bazą danych historycznych i archeologicznych, która docelowo ma zebrać najważniejsze zagadnienia o charakterze kulturowym, gospodarczym, społecznym, rytualnym z całego świata, począwszy od okresu neolitu aż do XIX wieku. Przedsięwzięcie, które rozpoczęło się 3 lata temu, wpisuje się w coraz bardziej popularny nurt humanistyki cyfrowej.
Pradzieje do cyfryzacji (Rzeczpospolita)
“Seshat. Global History Databank” to innowacyjna baza danych historycznych i archeologicznych jaką tworzą badacze i programiści z całego świata, między innymi z Uniwersytetu w Oksfordzie, Trinity College w Dublinie, Uniwersytetu w Yale.