University of California-Riverside

Sociology Department Seminar

Peter Turchin

University of Connecticut and Complexity Science Hub–Vienna

Bagan: 1044 to 1287 CE, capital of the Bagan Empire. (Myanmar-Burma)

Evolutionary Pathways to Statehood: Old Theories and New Data

Thursday, March 1, 2018


INTS 1333

Co-sponsored by

the Institute for Research on World-Systems

University of California-Riverside

Power Point Presentation at


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 of millions, characterized by 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. Different theories proposed by early theorists and contemporary social scientists make different predictions about causal processes driving the rise of state-level social organization. In my talk I will use Seshat: Global History Databank to empirically test predictions of several such theories. I will present results of a dynamical 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.

Peter Turchin is an evolutionary anthropologist who works in the field of historical social science that he and his colleagues call Cliodynamics. His research interests lie at the intersection of social and cultural evolution, historical macrosociology, economic history and cliometrics, mathematical modeling of long-term social processes, and the construction and analysis of historical databases. Currently he investigates a set of broad and interrelated questions: How do human societies evolve? What processes explain the evolution of ultrasociality—our capacity to cooperate in huge anonymous societies of millions? Why do we see such a staggering degree of inequality in economic performance and effectiveness of governance among nations? Turchin uses the theoretical framework of cultural evolution to address these questions. Currently his main research effort is directing the Seshat Databank project (, which builds and analyzes a massive historical database of cultural evolution that enables us to empirically test theoretical predictions coming from various social evolution theories.

Turchin has published 200 articles in peer-reviewed journals that include Nature, Science, and PNAS. His publications are frequently cited and in 2004 he was designated as “Highly cited researcher” by Turchin has authored seven books. His most recent books are Ultrasociety: How 10,000 Years of War Made Humans the Greatest Cooperators on Earth and Ages of Discord: A Structural-Demographic Analysis of American History.

Turchin is Editor-in-Chief of Cliodynamics: The Journal of Quantitative History and Cultural Evolution. 

For more information see Peter Turchin’s webpage: