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Cliodynamics Reading


Many figures in history have expressed interest in developing a mathematical theory for history, if not a deterministic theory for history. The most famous attempt was by Karl Marx, whose thinking significantly influenced history research in Soviet Russia and Communist China. Regarded somewhat radical by contemporary historians, this epistemological approach has been largely dismissed. However, with the emergence of cliometrics in the past 10-20 years, there is a belief that certain mechanisms in history can be explained better using mathematical formulations.

Recent Cliodynamics Readings

The term "Cliodynamics" comes from "Clio" who was the muse of history in Greek Mythology and dynamics, and "dynamics", means a temporally varying process. The term is coined recently by Peter Turchin in 2003. Here is a selected publications on Cliodynamics, I shall include more texts soon.

  • Turchin, P.; Nefedov, S. (2009), Secular Cycles, Princeton University Press
  • Turchin, P. (2006), War and Peace and War: The Rise and Fall of Empires, Plume
  • Turchin, P. (2003), Historical Dynamics: Why States Rise and Fall, Princeton University Press

Other readings

Since this is a relatively new field, there is only a limited volume of readings available. I have, however, some other reading that align with this school of thought. Certainly not entirely mathematical, there are examples in history where scholars have thought of a deterministic approach towards history.

  • Chin, KT. (1992), Cycle of Growth and Decline on the Ultrastable Structure of Chinese Society. Chinese University of Hong Kong Pres

This wonderful account uses catastrophe theory to illustrate how China has been an "ultra-stable" society. "Ultra-stable" refers to the sense that it has managed to maintain a unified form throughout ages of frequent turbulence.

"China: Macro history" is one of the many brilliant books by Huang with his special view of history. In this book he has introduced the term "Macro History," which he has borrowed from macroeconomics. Along with his other books he argues that the willpower of human is extremely limited with the geopolitical environment at any point in history. This view is elegantly discussed in his other book "1587, a year of no significant," which he elaborated his view almost in a storytelling manner.

Secular Cycles

Centre to Turchin's theory in cliodynamics is the idea of secular cycle. This is a process that takes place of years where the disparities in the division of land in agrarian societies increase vastly as peace persists (the Matthew Principle), leading to the emergence of a large and bulky elitist bureaucratic class and leads to a tipping point. At this tipping point, population would persistently decrease and remain relatively low until peace reigns. After that, the disparities being again, marking the beginning of another cycle. This cycle is observed to have a period of approximately 300 years. Certain points are interesting:

  • Global variations in demographical change is observed. The oscillations in various societies are in phase. Small perturbation between societies are attributed to this. This suggests that globalization (of a certain form) took place well before we coined the term.
  • Emergence of pseudo-capitalist societies prior to great demographic decrease.
  • Review of the Malthusian demographic model after great demographic decrease.