I recently published my first history article. Titled The Life-Spans of Empires, it’s published in the delightfully-named journal Historical Methods: A Journal of Quantitative and Interdisciplinary History. Using a fun dataset I unearthed from some articles in the Nineteen Seventies, I explore the lifespans of empires, and their similarities to other complex systems:
The collapse of empires is exceedingly difficult to understand. The author examined the distribution of imperial lifetimes using a data set that spans more than three millennia and found that it conforms to a memoryless exponential distribution in which the rate of collapse of an empire is independent of its age. Comparing this distribution to similar lifetime distributions of other complex systems—specifically, biological species and corporate firms—the author explores the reasons behind their lifetime distributions and how this approach can yield insights into empires.
This mathematical approach is part of a growing field of cliodynamics, a term coined by scientist Peter Turchin to describe the use of quantitative rigor in understanding history (there’s a new journal too of the same name). I look forward to more analyses that explore the long sweep of time using math.
Samuel Arbesman (2011). The Life-Spans of Empires Historical Methods, 44 (3), 127-129 : 10.1080/01615440.2011.577733