Cliodynamics Lab


The University of Hertfordshire has the distinction of being the home of the Cliodynamics Lab, the first lab in the world dedicated explicitly to the exciting new research area of cliodynamics.

Cliodynamics reveals how actual historical societies functioned, interacted, and evolved through time by taking a transdisciplinary approach to history. Cliodynamics combines insights from a broad range of disciplines, from historical macrosociology, economic history and cliometrics to evolutionary anthropology and archaeology and uses the scientific method to produce the data necessary to empirically test competing theories about historical processes. This is accomplished in two broad phases. First, cliodynamicists translate rival verbal theories about historical processes into mathematical models and extract quantitative predictions from these models. Second, they test quantitative predictions using rich datasets. When rich historical datasets are not available, cliodynamicists use state-of-the-art techniques to build them.

The University of Hertfordshire's Cliodynamics Lab is the world's premier lab dedicatedly explicitly to cliodynamic research and plays an integral role in this rapidly emerging research area. The Lab's director, Dr. Pieter Fran├žois, leads a rapidly growing team of scholars who embrace scientific workflows to rigorously study the past. To learn more, explore the following resources:

The University of Hertfordshire's Cliodynamics Lab hosts several innovative research projects.


Seshat: Global History Databank

The flagship project  of the Lab is the Seshat: Global History Databank project of which Dr. Pieter Francois, together with Professor Peter Turchin (University of Connecticut) and Professor Harvey Whitehouse (University of Oxford), is a founding editor. Seshat aims to be the premier home to test social sciences theories with historical and archaeological data. For a write up of the project, see our 2015 paper 'Seshat: the Global History Databank'. The project is supported by a range of grants, including the ESRC large grant 'Ritual, Community, and Conflict ', the John Templeton Foundation grant 'Axial-Age Religions and the Z-curve of Human Egalitarianism', the Tricoastal Foundation grant 'The Deep Roots of the Modern World: The cultural evolution of economic growth and political stability', and the European Union Horizon 2020 grant 'ALIGNED. Quality-centric, software and data engineering'. The Cliodynamics Lab spearheads an important part of the data gathering activities of the Seshat project, and plays a key role in establishing procedures and workflows to increase levels of productivity in data gathering, and in establishing metrics for data quality.

Big Data in the Humanities

The Cliodynamics Lab is also the home of the Santander Partnership project 'Big Data in the Humanities' which started in January 2015. This project seeks to map existing big data projects in the humanities and to foster collaboration between these projects and activities.

Sample Generator for Digitized Texts

The Cliodynamics Lab co-hosts, together with the British Library Labs, the 'Sample Generator for Digitized Texts' project. The Sample Generator is a digital tools which allows you to create unbiased structured samples of digitized texts taking into account parameters from much larger paper collections. Currently the Sample Generator works on both the nineteenth century digital and paper collections of the British Library. For a write up of this project, see the British Library's Digital Scholarship Blog.

Evolution of Literacy

The Cliodynamics Lab is home to the Evolution of Literacy project, headed by Dr Daniel Mullins. This research project uses innovative and rigorous scientific methods to rapidly enhance our understanding the formation and effects of literate behaviour around the globe, providing authoritative answers to long-standing questions of widespread concern, including:

  • Why did literate behaviours emerge independently around the globe?
  • What were the major drivers of the adoption and spread of literate behaviour?
  • How have literacy and socio-political organisations interacted throughout human history?

To answer these questions, the Evolution of Literacy project combines insights from evolutionary anthropology, archaeology, history, grammatology, cognitive science, and big data sciences with high-quality empirical datasets from archaeological, historical, and ethnographic sources. Analysing these data with rigorous formalised models and statistical methods enables researchers to discriminate between competing hypotheses and discover new ways of understanding literate behaviour. The resulting empirical datasets are made publicly available online. This open-source data will allow other researchers to analyse and elaborate on these datasets, contributing to the rapid-discovery model of scientific historical study known as Cliodynamics. To learn more, read Mullins, Atkinson, and Whitehouse (2013).

Who we are

Internal members

External members


Want to be a cliodynamicist? Contact Dr. Pieter Fran├žois ( if you are interested in participating in any of the above projects or the Lab in general. Prospective PhD students should contact Dr. Pieter Francois to discuss potential projects and funding opportunities.