An Introduction to Seshat

Global History Databank


  • Peter Turchin University of Connecticut
  • Harvey Whitehouse University of Oxford
  • Pieter François University of Oxford
  • Daniel Hoyer Evolution Institute
  • Abel Alves Ball State University
  • John Baines University of Oxford
  • David Baker Macquarie University
  • Marta Bartkowiak Adam Mickiewicz University, Poznań
  • Jennifer Bates Brown University
  • James Bennett University of Washington
  • Julye Bidmead Chapman University
  • Peter Bol Harvard University
  • Alessandro Ceccarelli University of Cambridge
  • Kostis Christakis British School at Athens
  • David Christian Macquarie University
  • Alan Covey University of Texas
  • Franco De Angelis University of British Columbia
  • Timothy K. Earle Northwestern University
  • Neil R. Edwards Open University
  • Gary Feinman Field Museum
  • Stephanie Grohmann University of Edinburgh
  • Philip B. Holden Open University
  • Árni Júlíusson University of Iceland
  • Andrey Korotayev National Research University Higher School of Economics
  • Axel Kristinsson Independent scholar
  • Jennifer Larson Kent State University
  • Oren Litwin George Mason University
  • Victor Mair University of Pennsylvania
  • Joseph G. Manning Yale University
  • Patrick Manning University of Pittsburgh
  • Arkadiusz Marciniak Adam Mickiewcz University, Poznan
  • Gregory McMahon University of New Hampshire
  • John Miksic National University of Singapore
  • Juan Carlos Moreno Garcia French National Centre for Scientific Research
  • Ian Morris Stanford University
  • Ruth Mostern University of Pittsburgh
  • Daniel Mullins Birkbeck University of London
  • Oluwole Oyebamiji Lancaster University
  • Peter Peregrine Lawrence University
  • Cameron Petrie University of Cambridge
  • Johannes Preiser-Kapeller Austrian Academy of Sciences
  • Peter Rudiak-Gould Independent scholar
  • Paula Sabloff Santa Fe Institute
  • Patrick Savage Keio University
  • Charles Spencer American Museum of Natural History
  • Miriam Stark University of Hawaii at Manoa
  • Barend ter Haar University of Hamburg
  • Stefan Thurner Complexity Science Hub, Vienna
  • Vesna Wallace University of California, Santa Barbara
  • Nina Witoszek University of Oslo
  • Liye Xie University of Toronto



Global history, cultural evolution, social complexity, big data, interdisciplinarity


This article introduces the Seshat: Global History Databank, its potential, and its methodology. Seshat is a databank containing vast amounts of quantitative data buttressed by qualitative nuance for a large sample of historical and archaeological polities. The sample is global in scope and covers the period from the Neolithic Revolution to the Industrial Revolution. Seshat allows scholars to capture dynamic processes and to test theories about the co-evolution (or not) of social scale and complexity, agriculture, warfare, religion, and any number of such Big Questions. Seshat is rapidly becoming a massive resource for innovative cross-cultural and cross-disciplinary research. Seshat is part of a growing trend to use comparative historical data on a large scale and contributes as such to a growing consilience between the humanities and social sciences. Seshat is underpinned by a robust and transparent workflow to ensure the ever growing dataset is of high quality.

Author Biography

Peter Turchin, University of Connecticut

Peter Turchin is an evolutionary anthropologist at the University of Connecticut. He also leads the Social Complexity and Collapse project at the Complexity Science Hub–Vienna and is Chair of the Board of Directors of Seshat: Global History Databank. 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. His most recent books are Ultrasociety: How 10,000 Years of War Made Humans the Greatest Cooperators on Earth and Ages of Discord (both published in 2016).


Currie, T. E., A. Bogaard, R. Cesaretti, N. R. Edwards, P. François, Ph. Holden, D. Hoyer, A. Korotayev, J. G. Manning, J. C. Moreno Garcia, O. K. Oyebamiji, C. Petrie, P. Turchin, H. Whitehouse, and A. Williams. 2015. “Agricultural Productivity in Past Societies: Toward an Empirically Informed Model for Testing Cultural Evolutionary Hypotheses.” Cliodynamics: The Journal of Quantitative History and Cultural Evolution 6(1):24–56. doi:

François, P., J. G. Manning, H. Whitehouse, R. Brennan, T. E. Currie, K. Feeney, and P. Turchin. 2016. “A Macroscope for Global History. Seshat Global History Databank: A Methodological Overview.” Digital Humanities Quarterly 10(4). doi:

Murdock, G. P. 1967. “Ethnographic Atlas: A Summary.” Ethnology 6(2):109–236.

Murdock, G. P. and D. R. White. 1969. “Standard Cross-Cultural Sample.” Ethnology 8(4):329–69.

Norenzayan, A. 2013. Big Gods: How Religion Transformed Cooperation and Conflict. Princeton: Princeton University Press.

Norenzayan, A., A. F. Shariff, W. M. Gervais, A. K. Willard, R. A. McNamara, E. Slingerland, and J. Henrich. 2016. “The Cultural Evolution of Prosocial Religions.” Behavioral and Brain Sciences 39. doi: 10.1017/S0140525X14001356

Peregrine, P. 2003. “Atlas of Cultural Evolution.” World Cultures 14(1).

Shin, J., M. H. Price, D. Wolpert, H. Shimao, B. Tracey, and T. A. Kohler. 2019. "Human Societies First Grow, Then Improve Their Information Processing, Then Grow Some More." Preprint: SocArXiv.

Smith, M. E., G. M. Feinman, R. D. Drennan, T. Earle, and I. Morris. 2012. “Archaeology as a Social Science.” Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 109(20):7617–21. doi: 10.1073/pnas.1201714109

Turchin, P. 2018. “Fitting Dynamic Regression Models to Seshat Data.” Cliodynamics 9(1):25–58. doi: 10.21237/C7clio9137696

Turchin, P., R. Brennan, T. E. Currie, K. Feeney, P. François, D. Hoyer, J. G. Manning, A. Marciniak, D. Mullins, A. Palmisano, P. Peregrine, E. A. L. Turner, and H. Whitehouse. 2015. “Seshat: The Global History Databank.” Cliodynamics: The Journal of Quantitative History and Cultural Evolution 6(1):77-107. doi:

Turchin, P., T. E. Currie, C. Collins, J. Levine, O. Oyebamiji, N. R. Edwards, Ph. B. Holden, D. Hoyer, K. Feeney, P. François, and Harvey Whitehouse. 2019. "Crop Productivity Estimates for Past Societies in the World Sample-30 of Seshat: Global History Databank." Preprint: SocArXiv.

Turchin, P., T. E. Currie, H. Whitehouse, P. François, K. Feeney, D. Mullins, D. Hoyer, C. Collins, S. Grohmann, P. Savage, G. Mendel-Gleason, E. Turner, A. Dupeyron, E. Cioni, J. Reddish, J. Levine, G. Jordan, E. Brandl, A. Williams, R. Cesaretti, M. Krueger, A. Ceccarelli, J. Figliulo-Rosswurm, P.-J. Tuan, P. Peregrine, A. Marciniak, J. Preiser-Kapeller, N. Kradin, A. Korotayev, A. Palmisano, D. Baker, J. Bidmead, P. Bol, D. Christian, C. Cook, A. Covey, G. Feinman, Á. D. Júlíusson, A. Kristinsson, J. Miksic, R. Mostern, C. Petrie, P. Rudiak-Gould, B. ter Haar, V. Wallace, V. Mair, L. Xie, J. Baines, E. Bridges, J. G. Manning, B. Lockhart, A. Bogaard, and C. Spencer. 2018. “Quantitative Historical Analysis Uncovers a Single Dimension of Complexity That Structures Global Variation in Human Social Organization.” Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 115(2):E144–51. doi: 10.1073/pnas.1708800115

Whitehouse, H., P. François, P. E. Savage, T. E. Currie, K. C. Feeney, E. Cioni, R. Purcell, R. M. Ross, J. Larson, J. Baines, B. ter Haar, A. Covey, and P. Turchin. 2019. “Complex Societies Precede Moralizing Gods throughout World History.” Nature 568(7751):226. doi: 10.1038/s41586-019-1043-4



How to Cite

Turchin, P., Whitehouse, H., François, P., Hoyer, D., Alves, A., Baines, J., Baker, D., Bartkowiak, M., Bates, J., Bennett, J., Bidmead, J., Bol, P., Ceccarelli, A., Christakis, K., Christian, D., Covey, A., De Angelis, F., Earle, T. K., Edwards, N. R., Feinman, G., Grohmann, S., Holden, P. B., Júlíusson, Árni, Korotayev, A., Kristinsson, A., Larson, J., Litwin, O., Mair, V., Manning, J. G., Manning, P., Marciniak, A., McMahon, G., Miksic, J., Garcia, J. C. M., Morris, I., Mostern, R., Mullins, D., Oyebamiji, O., Peregrine, P., Petrie, C., Preiser-Kapeller, J., Rudiak-Gould, P., Sabloff, P., Savage, P., Spencer, C., Stark, M., ter Haar, B., Thurner, S., Wallace, V., Witoszek, N., & Xie, L. (2020). An Introduction to Seshat: Global History Databank. Journal of Cognitive Historiography, 5(1-2), 115-123.