Empires rise and fall, populations and economies boom and bust, world religions spread or wither… What are the mechanisms underlying such dynamical processes in history? Are there ‘laws of history’? We do not lack hypotheses to investigate – to take just one instance, more than two hundred explanations have been proposed for why the Roman Empire fell. But we still don’t know which of these hypotheses are plausible, and which should be rejected. More importantly, there is no consensus on what general mechanisms explain the collapse of historical empires. What is needed is a systematic application of the scientific method to history: verbal theories should be translated into mathematical models, precise predictions derived, and then rigorously tested on empirical material. In short, history needs to become an analytical, predictive science (see Arise Cliodynamics).
Cliodynamics (from Clio, the muse of history, and dynamics, the study of why things change with time) is the new transdisciplinary area of research at the intersection of historical macrosociology, economic history/cliometrics, mathematical modeling of long-term social processes, and the construction and analysis of historical databases. Mathematical approaches – modeling historical processes with differential equations or agent-based simulations; sophisticated statistical approaches to data analysis – are a key ingredient in the cliodynamic research program (Why do we need mathematical history?). But ultimately the aim is to discover general principles that explain the functioning and dynamics of actual historical societies.
The community of researchers working on mathematical history and cliodynamics has been rapidly growing in recent years. We now have our own journal, Cliodynamics: the Journal of Quantitative History and Cultural Evolution. Although this web page is primarily devoted to my personal research, I also use my blog Cliodynamica to reflect the most significant developments in the field as a whole.
History needs to become an analytical, predictive science
Cliodynamics: The Journal of Quantitative History
Seshat The Global History Databank