Release date: February 28, 2010
Guest, Prof. Peter Turchin from the University of Connecticut, joins Massimo and Julia to discuss whether history can be studied and understood in a scientific manner. In an article in Nature (3 July 2008) on what he termed “cliodynamics,” he discusses the possibility of turning history into a science. In it, he proposes that history, contrary to what most historians might think -- is not just one damn thing after another, that there are regular and predictable patterns, from which we can learn and that we can predict. Of course, he is not the only scientist to have turned to history in an attempt to make that field more scientific, Jared Diamond’s Guns, Germs, and Steel and Collapse immediately come to mind. And naturally, many historians vehemently object to what they perceive as a crude scientistic attempt at interdisciplinary colonization.
Prof. Turchin is a biologist by training, with interests ranging from theoretical ecology to population biology to biostatistics. In particular, much of his work has focused on what determines population cycles, a problem to which he has applied an array of statistical and conceptual tools, including chaos theory. He has published three books on the topic: Historical Dynamics: Why States Rise and Fall (Princeton University Press, 2003), War and Peace and War: The Life Cycles of Imperial Nations (Pi Press, 2006), and Secular Cycles (co-authored with S.A. Nefedov, Princeton University Press, 2009).
Comment on the episode teaser.
Prof. Turcin's pick: Victor Lieberman's book "Strange Parallels"