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Peter Turchin is a scientist and an author who wants to understand how human societies evolve, and why we see such a staggering degree of inequality in economic performance and effectiveness of governance among nations. Peter’s approach to answering these questions blends theory building with the analysis of data. He is the founder of a new transdisciplinary field of Cliodynamics, which uses the tools of complexity science and cultural evolution to study the dynamics of historical empires and modern nation-states.

Peter has published two hundred articles, including a dozen in such top journals as Nature, Science, and PNAS (see Academic Publications). His publications are frequently cited and in 2004 he was designated as “Highly Cited Researcher” by ISIHighlyCited.com. Turchin has authored seven books (see Books), including Secular Cycles (with Sergey Nefedov, Princeton, 2009), and War and Peace and War (Penguin, 2005).
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.

Academic Affiliations

Professor at the University of Connecticut in the Departments of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, Anthropology, and Mathematics
External Faculty, Complexity Science Hub Vienna
Research Associate in the School of Anthropology, University of Oxford
Editor-in-Chief of Cliodynamics: The Journal of Quantitative History and Cultural Evolution

Building a Historical and Archaeological Database

Currently Peter’s main research effort is directed at coordinating the Seshat Databank —a massive historical database of cultural evolution that is gathering and systematically organizing the vast amount of knowledge about past human societies, held collectively by thousands of historians and archaeologists

Ages of Discord

Historical analysis shows that long spells of equitable prosperity and internal peace are succeeded by protracted periods of inequity, increasing misery, and political instability. These crisis periods—“Ages of Discord”—have recurred in societies throughout history. Modern Americans may be disconcerted to learn that the US right now has much in common with the Antebellum 1850s and, more surprisingly, with ancien régime France on the eve of the French Revolution. Can it really be true that there is nothing new about our troubled time, and that similar ages arise periodically for similar underlying reasons?

Ages of Discord marshals Structural-Demographic Theory and detailed historical data to show that this is, indeed, the case. The book takes the reader on a roller-coaster ride through American history, from the Era of Good Feelings of the 1820s to our first Age of Discord, which culminated in the American Civil War, to post-WW2 prosperity and, finally, to our present, second Age of Discord.

Ultrasociety

Follow Peter Turchin on an epic journey through time. From stone-age assassins to the orbiting cathedrals of the space age, from bloodthirsty god-kings to India’s first vegetarian emperor, discover the secret history of our species—and the evolutionary logic that governed it all.

Secular Cycles

Many historical processes exhibit recurrent patterns of change. Century-long periods of population expansion come before long periods of stagnation and decline; the dynamics of prices mirror population oscillations; and states go through strong expansionist phases followed by periods of state failure, endemic sociopolitical instability, and territorial loss. Peter Turchin and Sergey Nefedov explore the dynamics and causal connections between such demographic, economic, and political variables in agrarian societies and offer detailed explanations for these long-term oscillations—what the authors call secular cycles.

War and Peace and War

Turchin argues that the key to the formation of an empire is a society’s capacity for collective action. He demonstrates that high levels of cooperation are found where people have to band together to fight off a common enemy, and that this kind of cooperation led to the formation of the Roman and Russian empires, and the United States. But as empires grow, the rich get richer and the poor get poorer, conflict replaces cooperation, and dissolution inevitably follows. Eloquently argued and rich with historical examples, War and Peace and War offers a bold new theory about the course of world history.

Historical Dynamics

Peter Turchin develops hypotheses from a wide range of social, political, economic, and demographic factors: geopolitics, factors affecting collective solidarity, dynamics of ethnic assimilation/religious conversion, and the interaction between population dynamics and sociopolitical stability. He then translates these into a spectrum of mathematical models, investigates the dynamics predicted by the models, and contrasts model predictions with empirical patterns. Turchin’s highly instructive empirical tests demonstrate that certain models predict empirical patterns with a very high degree of accuracy. For instance, one model accounts for the recurrent waves of state breakdown in medieval and early modern Europe. And historical data confirm that ethno-nationalist solidarity produces an aggressively expansive state under certain conditions (such as in locations where imperial frontiers coincide with religious divides). The strength of Turchin’s results suggests that the synthetic approach he advocates can significantly improve our understanding of historical dynamics.

Complex Population Dynamics

Why do organisms become extremely abundant one year and then seem to disappear a few years later? Why do population outbreaks in particular species happen more or less regularly in certain locations, but only irregularly (or never at all) in other locations? Complex population dynamics have fascinated biologists for decades. By bringing together mathematical models, statistical analyses, and field experiments, this book offers a comprehensive new synthesis of the theory of population oscillations.

Quantitative Analysis of Movement

The spatial dimension—the interplay between environmental heterogeneity and individual movement—is an extremely important aspect of ecological dynamics. Ecologists are investing an enormous amount of effort in quantifying movement patterns of organisms. Connecting these data to general issues in metapopulation biology and landscape ecology, as well as to applied questions in conservation and natural resource management, however, is not a trivial task. One of the main impediments to a theoretical/empirical synthesis in the field of spatial ecology is a lack of a single source describing and systematizing quantitative methods for analyzing and modeling movement of organisms in the field. The goal of Quantitative Analysis of Movement is to provide such a source for empirical ecologists interested in quantifying movement in an ecological context. But the book goes beyond a simple compendium of existing approaches. It presents a general and coherent framework for studying and modeling movement that melds together individual-based simulations, reaction-diffusion models, and empirical curve-fitting approaches. The quantitative approaches discussed in the book are extensively illustrated with case studies selected from a wide variety of organisms, including plants (seed dispersal, spatial spread of clonal plants), many kinds of insects (such as butterflies, beetles, and ants), and vertebrates (fish, birds, and mammals).