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The Star Gazer and the Flesh Eater: Elements of a Theory of Metahistory


In this chapter, I have identified shared elements of historical explanations. Coming from a background in an historical, natural science, I have sought to describe a few key concepts that might prove of some value in an empirically-based historical analysis more generally. These include the concepts of regularity, complexity, criticality, coarse-graining, intensivity and extensivity, levels of selection, major transitions, and emergence. These are not in circulation in current historiography, which has tended to steer away from the analysis of large, quantitative data sets, but could provide new concepts for organizing phenomena when this tendency is overcome. In discussing these various mechanisms and principles, I have tried to establish the legitimacy of a meta-history – a field of history that encompasses elements of physics, biology, anthropology, archeology, and more recent human culture. This is distinct from the practice of Big History – seeking to explore grand narratives encompassing both naturalistic and cultural dynamics – and stresses a variety of problems, concepts and methods that might be applicable to all historical fields.

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