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Peter Turchin
"The Evolution of Complex Societies: Old Theories and New Data"
Friday, November 02, 2018, 03:30pm - 05:00pm
Mershon Center for International Security Studies
1501 Neil Ave.
Columbus, Ohio 43201

Peter Turchin

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Peter Turchin is professor at the University of Connecticut in the Departments of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, Anthropology, and Mathematics; external faculty at the Complexity Science Hub in Vienna; research associate in the School of Anthropology at University of Oxford; and editor-in-chief of Cliodynamics: The Journal of Quantitative History and Cultural Evolution.

Turchin is a scientist and an author who wants to understand how human societies evolve, and why we see such a staggering degree of inequality in economic performance and effectiveness of governance among nations. His approach to answering these questions blends theory building with the analysis of data. Turchin is the founder of a 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.

Turchin has published 200 articles, including a dozen in such top journals as Nature, Science, and PNAS. His publications are frequently cited, and in 2004 he was designated as “Highly Cited Researcher” by ISIHighlyCited.com. Turchin has authored seven books including Secular Cycles (with Sergey Nefedov, Princeton, 2009), and War and Peace and War (Penguin, 2005).

His most recent books are Ultrasociety: How 10,000 Years of War Made Humans the Greatest Cooperators on Earth (Beresta Books, 2015), and Ages of Discord: A Structural-Demographic Analysis of American History (Beresta Books, 2016).

Currently Turchin's main research effort is directed at coordinating the Seshat Databank —- a massive historical database of cultural evolution that is gathering and systematically organizing the vast amount of knowledge about past human societies, held collectively by thousands of historians and archaeologists.


Over the past 10,000 years human societies evolved from “simple” — small egalitarian groups, integrated by face-to-face interactions, — to “complex” — huge anonymous societies with great differentials in wealth and power, extensive division of labor, elaborate governance structures, and sophisticated information systems.

One aspect of this “major evolutionary transition” that continues to excite intense debate is the origins and evolution of the state — a politically centralized territorial polity with internally specialized administrative organization. Theories proposed by early theorists and contemporary social scientists make different predictions about causal processes driving the rise of state-level social organization.

I will use Seshat: Global History Databank to empirically test predictions of several such theories. I will present results of a dynamic regression analysis that estimates how the evolution of specialized governance structures was affected by such factors as social scale (population, territorial expansion), social stratification, provision of public goods, and information systems.


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