The Battle of Waterloo, Jan Willem Pieneman, 1824

Several SFI scientists' papers appear in a special issue of Cliodynamics, a new journal covering research in the emerging, transdisciplinary field of theoretical and mathematical history.

The 2011 special issue, the journal's second edition, leads with an editorial, "An Inquiry Into History, Big History, and Metahistory," by SFI Faculty Chair David Krakauer, John Gaddis (Yale University), and Kenneth Pomeranz (UC Irvine). The authors define "history" as the study of written records, "big history" as all reconstructions of the past that do not rely on written materials, and "metahistory" as the "patterns that emerge from both modes of inquiry that make generalization, and hence analysis, possible."

"History is too important -- and too encompassing -- to be analyzed exclusively through the methods of qualitative text-based narratives" as traditional historians do, they write. "We are confident...that juxtaposing types of inquiry developed to deal with change in literate societies and those developed to deal with a much longer record of change has proved to be one very useful way of exposing important, often neglected questions, both about what it makes sense to look for in the always incomplete records of the past and about how to do the looking."

Other articles in the issue include:

  • "A Single Historical Continuum," by David Christian (Macquarie University)
  • "A Paleontological Look at History," by SFI Professor Doug Erwin (Smithsonian)
  • "War, Peace, and Everything: Thoughts on Tolstoy," by John Gaddis (Yale University)
  • "Regularities in Human Affairs," by SFI Distinguished Fellow Murray Gell-Mann 
  • "Meta-History’s Dangerous Dream," by Geoffrey Harpham (National Humanities Center)
  • "The Star Gazer and the Flesh Eater: Elements of a Theory of Metahistory," by SFI Faculty Chair David Krakauer
  • "Homogeneity, Heterogeneity, Pigs, and Pandas in Human History," by John McNeill (Georgetown University)
  • "Labeling and Analyzing Historical Phenomena: Some Preliminary Challenges," by Kenneth Pomeranz (UC Irvine)
  • "Complexity in Big History," by Fred Spier (University of Amsterdam)
  • "Toward Cliodynamics: An Analytical, Predictive Science of History," by Peter Turchin (University of Connecticut)
  • "A Historical Conspiracy: Competition, Opportunity, and the Emergence of Direction in History," by Geerat Vermeij (UC Davis)
  • "Can there be a Quantitative Theory for the History of Life and Society?" by SFI Distinguished Professor Geoffrey West

Cliodynamics, edited by former SFI visiting professor and longtime SFI collaborator Peter Turchin, is an international peer-reviewed, web-based, free-access journal. It "will publish original articles advancing the state of theoretical knowledge and integrating transdisciplinary research in historical macrosociology, economic history/cliometrics, mathematical modeling of long-term social processes, and the construction and analysis of historical databases." SFI External Professors Doug White (UC Irvine) and Tim Kohler (Washington State University) are on the journal's editorial board.

The emerging field of cliodynamics takes its name from the Greek muse Clio, the muse for history. Turchin is said to have coined the term in 2003. He published a Nature article in 2008 introducing the broader scientific community to the field.

Krakauer and other SFI scientists and collaborators since 2005 have played a lead role in getting the field off the ground. Several working groups and workshops have been hosted by SFI on the application of mathematical and theoretical frameworks to history, and historical events, and SFI convened a transdisciplinary meeting in March 2008 that asked whether historians might benefit from the language and principles of complexity science, much as the fields of ecology and economics have. 

Read the Cliodynamics special issue (March 2011)

Read the Nature article by Peter Turchin (July 2008)

Read the SFI Update article about the 2008 meeting (March 2008)