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Open Access Publications from the University of California


Cliodynamics is a transdisciplinary area of research integrating historical macrosociology, cultural and social evolution, economic history/cliometrics, mathematical modeling of long-term social processes, and the construction and analysis of historical databases. Cliodynamics: The Journal of Quantitative History and Cultural Evolution is an international, peer-reviewed, open-access journal that publishes original articles advancing the state of theoretical knowledge in this transdisciplinary area. In the broadest sense, this theoretical knowledge includes general principles that explain the functioning, dynamics, and evolution of historical societies and specific models, usually formulated as mathematical equations or computer algorithms. Cliodynamics also has empirical content that deals with discovering general historical patterns, determining empirical adequacy of key assumptions made by models, and testing theoretical predictions with data from actual historical societies. A mature, or ‘developed theory’ thus integrates models with data; the main goal of Cliodynamics is to facilitate progress towards such theory in history and cultural evolution.

This journal is available for sharing and reuse under a Creative Commons Attribution (CC BY) 4.0 International License which means that all content is freely available without charge to users and their institutions. Users are allowed to read, download, copy, distribute, print, search, or link to the full texts of the articles in this journal without asking prior permission from the publisher or the author.

Cliodynamics is a member of the Directory of Open Access Journals (DOAJ) and Scopus


Was Wealth Really Determined in 8000 BCE, 1000 BCE, 0 CE, or Even 1500 CE?


Olsson and Hibbs (2005) and Comin, Easterly, and Gong (2010) make persuasive theoretical and empirical cases for the persistence of early biogeographical and technological advantages in predicting the distribution of national economic wealth. However, these results are challenged with an examination of sixteen observations on economic complexity, GDP per capita, and city size spanning as much as ten millennia and eight to eleven regions. The regional complexity/wealth hierarchies are relatively stable only for finite intervals. Early advantages, thus, have some persistence but do not linger indefinitely. The rich do not always get richer or even stay rich, and the poor sometimes improve their standings in the world pecking order dramatically. Early advantages are important but need to be balanced with the periodic potential for over-riding them.

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Indo-Europeans Were the Most Historically Significant Nomads of the Steppes

This paper contrasts the historical significance of the Indo-European to the non-Indo-European nomads. The impact of such nomadic peoples as the Scythians, Sogdians, Turks, and Huns never came close to the deep and lasting changes associated with the ‘Indo-Europeanization’ of the Occident. While Indo-Europeans were not the only people of the steppes organized as war bands bound together by oaths of aristocratic loyalty and fraternity, they thoroughly colonized Europe with their original pastoral package of wheel vehicles, horse-riding, and chariots, combined with the ‘secondary-products revolution.’ In contrast, the relationship between the non-Indo-European nomads with their more advanced sedentary neighbours was one of ‘symbiosis,’ ‘conflict,’ ‘trade,’ and ‘conquest,’ rather than dominion and cultural colonization.

The Actual Achievements of Early Indo-Europeans, in Accurate Historical Context

Ricardo Duchesne’s reply to Martin Hewson’s review of his book, The Uniqueness of Western Civilization (2011), focuses on a number of important points concerning the impact of peoples speaking Indo-European languages in Antiquity and the Middle Ages. However, several of Duchesne’s key assertions need to be modified to accord with the data.

The West and the Rest: The Science of the Great Divergence

There is now a huge literature attempting to explain the ‘Great Divergence’ between Europe and the rest of the world during the early modern period. The Uniqueness of Western Civilization by Ricardo Duchesne follows a distinct route in both framing the question and proposing an answer to it. I see two serious problems with Duchesne’s work. The first one is how he resolves the intrinsic tension between his ideological goals and the requirements of the scientific method. The second problematic aspect, which is shared by most of the broader literature on this topic, is that there are serious methodological difficulties in explaining unique historical events. This article discusses general approaches to the study of unique events, such as the Great Divergence. It also critiques two myths of European exceptionalism that are discussed by Duchesne and, even more importantly, still have broad currency in the historical literature: the supposed geographic uniqueness of Europe and the so-called Western Way of War.

The Uniqueness of the West Reinforced: A Reply to Beckwith, Goldstone, and Turchin

This paper defends the ‘Kurgan hypothesis,’ the uniqueness of the epic heroic poetry of Indo-Europeans, and the uniqueness of Western civilization generally. The term ‘uniqueness’ is defined and associated with cultural creativity rather than with global economic and military dominance only.

Social Evolution Forum

Human Cultures are Primarily Adaptive at the Group Level (with comment)

The question of whether a given trait qualifies as an adaptation must be answered on a case-by-case basis. Nevertheless, a strong case can be made for species as primarily adapted to their environments. A similar argument can be made for human cultures as primarily adapted to their environments at the group level. The reason that human cultures are primarily adaptive at the group level is because the capacity for culture is itself a group-level adaptation. Establishing a consensus on human cultures as primarily adapted at the group level will enable human cultural diversity to be studied in the same way as biological diversity.

Human Cooperation is a Complex Problem with Many Possible Solutions: Perhaps All of Them Are True!

Recent debates on the SEF and in Steven Pinker’s Edge essay The false allure of group selection, and commentaries thereupon, seem to underplay one of the most important points about human societies, the interaction of, and often synergy between two major structural principles for organizing cooperation in human societies.

Book Reviews

Inequality and Institutions: A Review Essay on Why Nations Fail by Daron Acemoglu and James A. Robinson

A Review Essay on Why Nations Fail: The Origins of Power, Prosperity, and Poverty by Daron Acemoglu and James A. Robinson (Random House, 2012)

Correlates of Objective Historiography: A Review Essay on Hierarchy, History, and Human Nature by Donald E. Brown

A Review Essay on Hierarchy, History, and Human Nature: The Social Origins of Historical Consciousness by Donald E. Brown (University of Arizona Press, 1988)

Reflections on Violence in the Spanish Borderlands: A Review Essay on Chiricahua and Janos by Lance R. Blyth

A Review Essay on Chiricahua and Janos: Communities of Violence in the Southwestern Borderlands, 1680-1880 by Lance R. Blyth (University of Nebraska Press, 2012)