Emergence of Premodern States edited by Jeremy and Paula L.W. Sabloff

“Everyone who reads this chapter lives under the control of a state. We benefit from the security the state provides, from specialized organizations that deliver education at the beginning of life and health care at its end. We may be forced to pay taxes to sustain means of suppression we do not like, and we may be forced to fight in wars we do not accept. It is not surprising that scholars have been fascinated with the rise and spread of these polities during the last six millennia.”

—Henry T. Wright, “The Problem of States: The State of the Problem”

Chapter 2 in The Emergence of Premodern States

On June 11, the SFI Press released the second volume in its Seminar Series, The Emergence of Premodern States, edited by Jeremy A. Sabloff and Paula L.W. Sabloff. Following the success of the Press’s first volume, History, Big History, & Metahistory, this project tackles one of the most deceptively simple inquiries in archaeology: How did humans transition from hunter-gatherer societies into states — collective entities that are the movers and shakers of the modern world?

In at least Old Kingdom Egypt, Lower Mesopotamia, the Indus Valley, Shang China, Protohistoric Hawai’i, Mesoamerica, and the Andes, societies evolved complex structures without a pre-existing model to follow. In this volume, archaeologists, anthropologists, and evolutionary theorists investigate why—and how—this transition occurred independently in so many parts of the world, but not in others.

“The goal of the book is to examine the rise of early complex societies — premodern states — using a variety of tools from complex adaptive systems studies,” say the editors. These tools include agent-based modeling, network analysis, and theoretical applications of evolutionary biology. 

Contributors to the volume include anthropologist and MacArthur Fellow Henry Wright as well as SFI External Professor Peter Peregrine, whose dataset on cross-cultural research laid the foundations for his Atlas of Cultural Evolution and the Human Relations Area Files’ eHRAF Archaeology

The book is available in paperback for $9.95, in keeping with the SFI Press’s mission to provide world-class complexity research at an accessible price point. Hardcover and ebook editions will be released in July 2018. 

“With a vast quantity of new information about premodern states now available from around the world, the time is ripe for such a new comparative examination,” the editors add. “Given these circumstances, it is an exciting time indeed for archaeologists who are interested in the rise and development of premodern states!”

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