Three Seshat Workshops


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Last four weeks I’ve been traveling all over Europe. After leaving Vienna (I wrote about the conference on The Haves and Have Nots in my previous post), I went to Moscow, then to Oxford, to Oslo, back to Oxford, and finally to southern Portugal. Most of these trips involved attending conferences and workshops.

In Oslo I gave a lecture in a graduate course on global challenges and I also spoke in the Arne Næss Symposium on Cultural Evolution and the Welfare of Nations. They made videos of our presentations, and I’ll post a link when they are published.

But the main focus has been on our Seshat project, and I participated in three workshops related to it, taking place in Oxford in September and October. The first one was organized by the ALIGNED project, funded by the EU Horizon 2020 program, which is developing IT infrastructure to build and maintain systems for the management of large databases. One of the three case-studies for this project is Seshat. I was asked to present an overview of the Seshat project during this meeting. Here’s a rather nice logo that they came up with for the project:


The next two workshops were run by our own team. One focused on extending the Seshat approach to coding pre-historic societies that are known only archaeologically. See below for a blog post by the Seshat postdoc Dan Hoyer. Another was the third general Seshat workshop, which we have been holding every six months (the first two were in Oxford and Santa Fe). I will write more about this workshop later this month, when we roll out the new and greatly improved Seshat web site.

Here’s what Dan Hoyer wrote about the Archaeology workshop:

Historians without History

Archaeology Workshop, School of Anthropology and Museum Ethnography, Oxford University. October 8, 2015

In early October, a group of archaeologists, historians, and anthropologists got together at the School of Anthropology and Museum Ethnography at Oxford University for a workshop organized by the Seshat: Global History Databank. The purpose of the meeting was to discuss the best ways to use archaeological material as a source of historical information to test predictions about the past. In attendance were historians of the ancient Mediterranean and the Middle East, experts on pre-Columbian central America, and the Far East. Also in attendance were archaeologists engaged in work on the important Neolithic site of Çatalhöyük in modern Turkey, one of the world’s most well-preserved and studied pre-historic communities and a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

The Seshat project is collecting information on a large number of societies that have existed throughout human history from around the globe covering a wide array of topics: the evolution of social complexity, the role of ritual systems in promoting social cohesion, the deep-seated origins of modern disparities in economic performance, etc. To a large extent, the project makes use of historical records. These include sources such as the writings of philosophers and the literate elite of the societies who commented on the nature of political rule or how the different social classes interact, the archives of the ruling administration detailing the procedures of governance, or scraps of information from private individuals like business contracts or deeds of sale that shed light into the inner-workings of historical economies.

But what happens when we want to explore really ancient societies, those that existed before the widespread development or adoption of widespread writing systems?

Read the rest here

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