Figuring Out the Past

What was history’s biggest empire? What was the tallest building ever constructed before concrete? What was the life expectancy in medieval Byzantium? Where did scientific writing first emerge? What was the bloodiest ever human sacrifice? We are used to thinking about history in terms of stories. Yet we understand our own world through data: vast arrays of statistics that reveal the workings of our societies. Why not the past as well? Seshat: Global History Databank are partnering with the Economist and Profile Books to produce a new volume, Figuring out the Past (December 2020), which turns a quantitative eye on our collective trajectory. Behind the fleeting dramas of individual factions and rulers, it looks for large-scale regularities, showing the spread of key social and technical innovations and pinpointing outliers from the general trends.