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.
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Volume 6, Issue 2, 2015
An empirical study of cultural evolution: the development of European cooking from medieval to modern times
We have carried out an empirical study of long-term change in European cookery to test if the development of this cultural phenomenon matches a general hypothesis about cultural evolution: that human cultural change is characterized by cumulativity. Data from seven cookery books, evenly spaced across time, the oldest one written in medieval times (~1200) and the most recent one dating from late modernity (1999), were compared. Ten recipes from each of the categories “poultry recipes”, “fish recipes” and “meat recipes” were arbitrarily selected from each cookery book by selecting the first ten recipes in each category, and the numbers (per recipe) of steps, separate partial processes, methods, ingredients, semi-manufactured ingredients, compound semi-manufactured ingredients (defined as semi-manufactured ingredients containing no less than two raw products), and self-made semi-manufactured ingredients were counted. Regression analyses were used to quantitatively compare the cookery from different ages. We found a significant increase in the numbers (per recipe) of steps, separate partial processes, methods, ingredients and semi-manufactured ingredients. These significant increases enabled us to identify the development of cookery as an example of the general trend of cumulativity in long-term cultural evolution. The number of self-made semi-manufactured ingredients per recipe, however, may have decreased somewhat over time, something which may reflect the cumulative characteristics of cultural evolution at the level of society, considering the accumulation of knowledge that is required to industrialize food production.
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Why does wheat flour consumption appear to be significantly associated with vascular diseases? To answer this question we analyzed data on rice consumption, wheat flour consumption, total calorie consumption, and mortality from vascular diseases obtained from the China Study II dataset. This dataset covers the years of 1983, 1989 and 1993; with data related to biochemistry, diet, lifestyle, and mortality from various diseases in 69 counties in China. Our analyses point at a counterintuitive conclusion: it may not be wheat flour consumption that is the problem, but the culture associated with it, characterized by: decreased levels of physical activity, decreased exposure to sunlight, increased consumption of processed foods, and increased social isolation. Wheat flour consumption may act as a proxy for the extent to which this culture is expressed in a population. The more this culture is expressed, the greater is the prevalence of vascular diseases.
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Capitalist Systems are Societal Constructs: Not “Clouds” or “Clocks,” but “City States”: A Review of Does Capitalism Have a Future? by Immanuel Wallerstein, Randall Collins, Michael Mann, Georgi Derluguian, and Craig Calhoun (Oxford University Press, 2013
Does Capitalism Have a Future? is the work of five distinguished senior authors addressing the future of capitalism and its recent past. Their book warns that “something big looms on the horizon: a structural crisis much bigger than the recent great recession. Over the next three or four decades, capitalists of the world may simply find it impossible to make their usual investment decisions due to overcrowding of world markets and inadequate accounting for rising social costs. In this situation, capitalism would end in the frustration of the capitalists themselves.”
The authors have chosen a very broad and important topic that suggests the need for skillful conceptualization, patient historical research, and well-informed, multidisciplinary analysis, all of which inevitably makes for a difficult read. At the same time, I fear that the book’s “bad news” for society might incline some readers to want to “shoot the messengers.” Nevertheless, in my view, these authors deserve credit for having the courage to report the “bad news” they foresee for the future of capitalism and for making some very far-sighted observations about their topic—most significantly, that capitalism is a system of political economy and not just the economics of markets. I agree wholeheartedly. In addition, I applaud their assertion that capitalist systems frequently have significant unrecognized costs (externalities) and that the employment prospects for its middle classes are being challenged as never before.