Serfdom, the State, and the Problem of Enforcement

Until fairly recently, history was written primarily with a focus on the state, using sources generated by states (or early versions of states). Historians' views of how past societies worked came from sources that actually told us more about how societies were governed or how those in government thought their societies worked (or ought to … Continue reading Serfdom, the State, and the Problem of Enforcement

Sherman’s March

What were the effects of the capital destruction wrecked on the South during Sherman's March? Comparing neighboring counties that differ only on whether or not they were unlucky enough to be in the way of Sherman’s scorched earth campaign, new work shows that destruction did have significant medium-run effects on the southern economy.


Vengeance, retribution meted out by an individual or social group against someone who has harmed them, has long fascinated social scientists. From blood feuds in the Balkan mountains to honor killings in the US South to rido in the Philippines, ethnographers have thoroughly studied these extreme forms of retaliation and the environments in which they … Continue reading Revenge

Identity Taxation

Rulers who do not identify with certain segments of the population on religious, cultural, political, economic, or sexual orientation grounds are often motivated to induce these “unwanted” populations to convert, assimilate, emigrate, or any other means of complying with the ruler’s identity. Both the historical and social sciences literatures have largely focused on the persecution … Continue reading Identity Taxation

Big and Small Gods

Religious and supernatural beliefs are nearly universal across societies. While the belief systems vary in their specific tenets, they range from belief systems that include a moralizing high God to much more decentralized belief systems that feature ancestors, witchcraft, and sorcery. Understanding the origins and effects of these various belief systems for individual and group … Continue reading Big and Small Gods

Adventures with an (Almost) Amazing Dataset

This post is about an amazing dataset that looks reliable at first glance but has some serious issues when you look closer.[1] The individual errors are small, subtle, and hard to spot. When added together, though, they can cause big problems for HPE researchers. Before I get into the details about the specific dataset—why so … Continue reading Adventures with an (Almost) Amazing Dataset

HPE of Climate Change: The Little Ice Age in Europe

Anthropogenic climate change is the defining challenge of this century. Understanding how societies respond to it can help us anticipate and mitigate its consequences. Most academic literature to date has focused on the short-term effects of weather shocks and natural disasters (see review by Vally Koubi). This approach has generated important insights, but does not … Continue reading HPE of Climate Change: The Little Ice Age in Europe