SFI Fractal Faculty member Kyle Harper, who joined SFI in August 2022, takes an unconventional approach to his studies of Roman history at the University of Oklahoma. With a long-held interest in physics, Harper brings a complex-systems lens to the study of the human past as he explores the rise of technologies, environmental change and constraints, and the spread of diseases. In July 2022, Harper sat down to talk with SFI President David Krakauer about his work. Below are clips from their conversation.
A portion of this conversation was excerpted in the second issue of Extraterritorial.
Your first two books address moral and ethical issues in Rome whereas the more recent books connect more directly to natural science. How did you transition between topics?
Evolutionary theory explores both internal constraints and environmental selection. How do you consider internal and external constraints as a historian?
This apex moment in Roman history coincided with early globalization. What role did this play in the Antonine plague?
There is a very curious relationship between drought, disease, and social structure during the Antonian plague. Could you expand on this?
You use the phrase "a bomb went off" to express a fundamental shift in history. What does that mean in the context of the sixth century?
Human ingenuity and technologies created the opportunities for disease to thrive. Are we the agents of our own demise?
Check out this and more interesting interviews and persepectives in the Winter 2023 issue of Extraterritorial, or peruse all of SFI's Newsletters.