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Cliodynamics /ˈkli.dˈnæmɪks/ is a transdisciplinary area of research integrating cultural evolution, economic history/cliometrics, macrosociology, the mathematical modeling of historical processes during the longue durée, and the construction and analysis of historical databases.[1] Cliodynamics treats history as science. Its practitioners develop theories that explain such dynamical processes as the rise and fall of empires, population booms and busts, spread and disappearance of religions. These theories are translated into mathematical models. Finally, model predictions are tested against data. Thus, building and analyzing massive databases of historical and archaeological information is one of the most important goals of cliodynamics.


The word cliodynamics is composed of clio- /ˈkli./ and -dynamics /dˈnæmɪks/. In Greek mythology, Clio is the muse of history. Dynamics, most broadly, is the study of how and why phenomena change with time.


The term was originally coined by Peter Turchin in 2003, and can be traced to the work of such figures as Ibn Khaldun, Alexandre Deulofeu, Jack Goldstone, Sergey Kapitsa, Randall Collins, John Komlos, and Andrey Korotayev.

Mathematical modeling of historical dynamics

Many historical processes are dynamic (a dynamic process is one that changes with time). Populations increase and decline, economies expand and contract, states grow and collapse. A very common approach, which has proved its worth in innumerable applications (particularly, but not exclusively, in the natural sciences), consists of taking a holistic phenomenon and splitting it up into separate parts that are assumed to interact with each other. This is the dynamical systems approach, because the whole phenomenon is represented as a system consisting of several elements (or subsystems) that interact and change dynamically; that is, over time. In the dynamical systems approach, one sets out explicitly with mathematical formulae how different subsystems interact with each other. This mathematical description is the model of the system, and one can use a variety of methods to study the dynamics predicted by the model, as well as attempt to test the model by comparing its predictions with observed empirical, dynamic evidence. Cliodynamics is the application of this same approach to the social sciences in general and to the study of historical dynamics in particular.

Cliodynamics practitioners apply mathematical models to explain macrohistorical patterns – things like the rise of empires, social discontent, civil wars, and state collapse. Although the focus is usually on the dynamics of large conglomerates of people, the approach of cliodynamics doesn't preclude the inclusion of human agency in its explanatory theories. Such questions can be explored with agent-based computer simulations.

Isaac Asimov employed a fictional version of this discipline, called psychohistory, as a major plot device in his Foundation series of science fiction novels.

Databases and data sources

Cliodynamics relies on large bodies of evidence to test competing theories on a wide range of historical processes. This typically involves building massive stores of evidence. The rise of digital history and various research technologies have allowed huge databases to be constructed in recent years. Some prominent databases utilized by cliodynamics practitioners include the following:


As of 2016, the main achievements in cliodynamics are:

  • The coevolutionary model of social complexity and warfare, based on the theoretical framework of Cultural Multilevel Selection[7]
  • The study of revolutions and rebellions[8]
  • Structural-demographic theory and secular cycles[9]
  • Explanations of the global distribution of languages benefitted from the empirical finding that the geographic area in which a language is spoken is more closely associated with its political complexity than all other variables under analysis.[10]
  • mathematical modeling of the long-term ("millennial") trends of the World System dynamics,[11]
  • structural-demographic models of the Modern Age revolutions, including the Arab revolutions of 2011.[12]

Cliodynamics: The Journal of Quantitative History and Cultural Evolution

Cliodynamics: The Journal of Quantitative History and Cultural Evolution[13] is a peer-reviewed web-based (open-access) journal that publishes on the transdisciplinary area of cliodynamics. It integrates research on cultural and social evolution, historical macrosociology, mathematical modeling of long-term social processes, economic history/cliometrics, and facilitates the construction and analysis of comparative and longitudinal databases. This journal seeks to identify general principles that explain the evolutionary dynamics and functioning of historical societies and develop specific models, typically developed as computer algorithms or mathematical equations. To reveal general historical patterns, evaluate key assumptions made by models, and test hypotheses on real-world historical societies, the journal functions as a platform for empirical content. Ultimately, this journal seeks to integrate historical models with data to facilitate theoretical progress.

The first issue was published in December 2010. Cliodynamics is a member of Scopus and the Directory of Open Access Journals (DOAJ).

University of Hertfordshire Cliodynamics Lab

The University of Hertfordshire's Cliodynamics Lab[14] is the first lab in the world dedicated explicitly to the new research area of Cliodynamics. The Cliodynamics Lab is based at the University of Hertfordshire and is directed by Pieter François, who founded the Lab in 2015.

Cliodynamics at Santa Fe Institute

The Santa Fe Institute[15] is a private, not-for-profit research and education center where leading scientists grapple with some of the most compelling and complex problems of our time. The institute supports work in complex modeling of networks and dynamical systems. One of the areas of SFI reseach is Cliodynamics (see History as Science).

In the past the Institute has sponsored a series of conversations and meetings on theoretical history (see, for example, An Inquiry into History, Big History, and Metahistory).

See also


  1. Peter Turchin Arise cliodynamics, 2008 Nature (3 July 2008)
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  4. Peter N. Peregrine, Atlas of Cultural Evolution, World Cultures 14(1), 2003
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  7. Turchin P. 2003. Historical Dynamics: Why States Rise and Fall. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press; Turchin P. 2005. War and Peace and War. Plume; Turchin P. 2009. A theory for formation of large states. Journal of Global History 4:191-217. Turchin P. 2011. Warfare and the Evolution of Social Complexity: A Multilevel-Selection Approach. Structure and Dynamics 4(3(1)):1-37
  8. Goldstone J. 1991. Revolution and Rebellion in the Early Modern World. Berkeley, California: University of California Press; Turchin P. 2003. Historical Dynamics: Why States Rise and Fall. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press; Turchin P. 2005. War and Peace and War. Plume
  9. Turchin P., Nefedov S. 2009. Secular Cycles. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press; Korotayev, A., Malkov, A., & Khaltourina, D. 2006b. Introduction to Social Macrodynamics: Secular Cycles and Millennial Trends. Moscow: URSS. ISBN 5-484-00559-0; Korotayev, A. & Khaltourina D. 2006 Introduction to Social Macrodynamics: Secular Cycles and Millennial Trends in Africa. Moscow: URSS. ISBN 5-484-00560-4.
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  11. Tsirel, S. V. 2004. On the Possible Reasons for the Hyperexponential Growth of the Earth Population. Mathematical Modeling of Social and Economic Dynamics / Ed. by M. G. Dmitriev and A. P. Petrov, pp. 367–9. Moscow: Russian State Social University, 2004; Korotayev A., Malkov A., Khaltourina D. 2006. Introduction to Social Macrodynamics: Compact Macromodels of the World System Growth. Moscow: URSS. ISBN 5-484-00414-4; Andrey Korotayev. The World System urbanization dynamics. History & Mathematics: Historical Dynamics and Development of Complex Societies. Edited by Peter Turchin, Leonid Grinin, Andrey Korotayev, and Victor C. de Munck. Moscow: KomKniga, 2006. ISBN 5-484-01002-0. P. 44-62 etc.
  12. Korotayev A., Zinkina J. Egyptian Revolution: A Demographic Structural Analysis. Entelequia. Revista Interdisciplinar 13 (2011): 139-169.
  13. Cliodynamics: The Journal of Quantitative History and Cultural Evolution
  14. The University of Hertfordshire's Cliodynamics Lab
  15. Santa Fe Institute
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