Reading lists

Click on the module’s section to access the discussion papers, with direct download links; or the suggested readings with external links.

For this module, Hilton Root prepared a paper discussing all the relevant references and including new ideas.

Root, Hilton L., How Communities Scale into Civilizations: The Diffusion of Culture Across Historical Networks (May 16, 2021). Available at SSRN

We analyze structure and function in the network design of historical regimes to build a theory for the development of societies and states from endogenous mechanisms of social change. We use historical evidence from China and Western Europe to show how their respective network structures evolved independently but share a global property of complex social systems: both are small world, meaning that any node in the network can reach any other node by a small number of steps. Probing the variations in network topologies and their role in diffusion and scaling, we account for differences in formal institutions, interpersonal trust, cultural norms, and moral protocols.

In this module, we will discuss how networks shape norms and vice versa.

We hope that all participants will be able to read at least two of the following papers prior to the meeting.

Papers (in alphabetical order)

  • Bowles, S. and Gintis, H., 2004. Persistent parochialism: trust and exclusion in ethnic networks. Journal of Economic Behavior & Organization(1), pp.1-23.

    Decentralized groups such as close knit residential neighborhoods and ethnically linked businesses often achieve high levels of cooperation while engaging in exclusionary practices that we call parochialism. We investigate the contribution of within-group cultural affinity to the ability of parochial groups to cooperate in social dilemmas. We analyze parochial networks in which the losses incurred by not trading with outsiders are offset by an enhanced ability to enforce informal contracts by fostering trust among insiders. We show that there is a range of degrees of parochialism for which parochial networks can coexist with an anonymous market offering unrestricted trading opportunities.

  • Gelfand, M.J., Raver, J.L., Nishii, L., Leslie, L.M., Lun, J., Lim, B.C., Duan, L., Almaliach, A., Ang, S., Arnadottir, J. and Aycan, Z., 2011. Differences between tight and loose cultures: A 33-nation study. Science (6033), pp.1100-1104.

    With data from 33 nations, we illustrate the differences between cultures that are tight (have many strong norms and a low tolerance of deviant behavior) versus loose (have weak social norms and a high tolerance of deviant behavior). Tightness-looseness is part of a complex, loosely integrated multilevel system that comprises distal ecological and historical threats (e.g., high population density, resource scarcity, a history of territorial conflict, and disease and environmental threats), broad versus narrow socialization in societal institutions (e.g., autocracy, media regulations), the strength of everyday recurring situations, and micro-level psychological affordances (e.g., prevention self-guides, high regulatory strength, need for structure). This research advances knowledge that can foster cross-cultural understanding in a world of increasing global interdependence and has implications for modeling cultural change.

  • Kimbrough, E.O. and Vostroknutov, A., 2016. Norms make preferences social. Journal of the European Economic Association (3), pp.608-638.

    We explore the idea that prosocial behavior in experimental games is driven by social norms imported into the laboratory. Under this view, differences in behavior across subjects is driven by heterogeneity in sensitivity to social norms. We introduce an incentivized method of eliciting individual norm-sensitivity, and we show how it relates to play in public goods, trust, dictator, and ultimatum games. We show how our observations can be rationalized in a stylized model of norm-dependent preferences under reasonable assumptions about the nature of social norms. Then we directly elicit norms in these games to test the robustness of our interpretation.

  • Nunn, N., 2021. History as evolution. In The Handbook of Historical Economics (pp. 41-91). Academic Press.

    In this chapter, I consider the benefits of viewing history through an evolutionary lens. In recent decades, a field of research has emerged, which builds on foundations from biological evolution to study culture within an evolutionary framework. I begin the chapter by discussing the theory behind cultural evolution and the empirical evidence supporting its ability to explain the history of human societies. I then turn to a discussion of how an evolutionary perspective provides important insights into a range of phenomena within economics, including a deeper understanding of human capital, innovation, gender roles, the consequences of warfare, the effects of market competition, why we observe historical persistence and path dependence, and, most importantly, why sustained economic growth is often so elusive. I end by turning to a summary of a growing body of research within economics that has made progress in improving our understanding of cultural evolution and, thus, contributing to evolutionary disciplines outside of economics.

  • Schulz, J.F., Bahrami-Rad, D., Beauchamp, J.P. and Henrich, J., 2019. The Church, intensive kinship, and global psychological variation. Science 366 (6466).

    Recent research not only confirms the existence of substantial psychological variation around the globe but also highlights the peculiarity of many Western populations. We propose that part of this variation can be traced back to the action and diffusion of the Western Church, the branch of Christianity that evolved into the Roman Catholic Church. Specifically, we propose that the Western Church’s transformation of European kinship, by promoting small, nuclear households, weak family ties, and residential mobility, fostered greater individualism, less conformity, and more impersonal prosociality. By combining data on 24 psychological outcomes with historical measures of both Church exposure and kinship, we find support for these ideas in a comprehensive array of analyses across countries, among European regions, and among individuals from different cultural backgrounds.

  • Smolla, M. and Akçay, E., 2019. Cultural selection shapes network structure. Science advances 5 (8)

    Cultural evolution relies on the social transmission of cultural traits along a population’s social network. Research indicates that network structure affects information spread and thus the capacity for cumulative culture. However, how network structure itself is driven by population-culture co-evolution remains largely unclear. We use a simple model to investigate how populations negotiate the trade-off between acquiring new skills and getting better at existing skills and how this trade-off shapes social networks. We find unexpected eco-evolutionary feedbacks from culture onto social networks and vice versa. We show that selecting for skill generalists results in sparse networks with diverse skill sets, whereas selecting for skill specialists results in dense networks and a population that specializes on the same few skills on which everyone is an expert. Our model advances our understanding of the complex feedbacks in cultural evolution and demonstrates how individual-level behavior can lead to the emergence of population-level structure

For this module, we will be discussing two types of networks that are common in history: individual networks and elite networks. By individual networks, we mean the network of who the person(s) in question knew. By elite networks, we mean how elites are connected to each other, either through the political process or family ties. Of course, these two types of networks may overlap.

One of the central goals of the module is to start a discussion of the types of historical questions that can be answered via network analysis. As some of the papers below suggest, this is changing as access to new data becomes less costly and computing power rises exponentially.

We hope that all participants will be able to read at least two of the following papers prior to the meeting. Jared Rubin will begin the module with a discussion of historical data, including data used in some of the papers below, as well as the types of questions that would be better informed using ideas from network analysis. Although the focus will be historical, implications for economic development and economic growth will be central to the discussion. We encourage participants to come with ideas of the “types” of historical analyses they believe would be better informed with network analysis.

Papers (in alphabetical order)

  • Becker, Sascha O., Yuan Hsiao, Steven Pfaff, and Jared Rubin. 2020. “Multiplex Network Ties and the Spatial Diffusion of Radical Innovations: Martin Luther’s Leadership in the Early Reformation.” American Sociological Review 85(5): 857-894.

    This article analyzes Martin Luther’s role in spreading the early Reformation, one of the most important episodes of radical institutional change in the last millennium. We argue that social relations played a key role in its diffusion because the spread of heterodox ideologies and their eventual institutionalization relied not only on private “infection” through exposure to innovation but also on active conversion and promotion of that new faith through personal ties. We conceive of that process as leader-to-follower directional influence originating with Luther and flowing to local elites through personal ties. Based on novel data on Luther’s correspondence, Luther’s visits, and student enrollments in Luther’s city of Wittenberg, we reconstruct Luther’s influence network to examine whether local connections to him increased the odds of adopting Protestantism. Using regression analyses and simulations based on empirical network data, we find that the combination of personal/relational diffusion via Luther’s multiplex ties and spatial/structural diffusion via trade routes fostered cities’ adoption of the Reformation, making possible Protestantism’s early breakthrough from a regional movement to a general rebellion against the Roman Catholic Church.

  • Benzell, Seth G., and Kevin Cooke. Forthcoming. “A Network of Thrones: Kinship and Conflict in Europe, 1495-1918.” American Economic Journal: Applied Economics.

    We construct a database linking European royal kinship networks, monarchies, and wars to study the effect of family ties on conflict. To establish causality, we exploit decreases in connection caused by apolitical deaths of rulers’ mutual relatives. These deaths are associated with substantial increases in the frequency and duration of war. We provide evidence that these deaths affect conflict only through changing the kinship network. Over our period of interest, the percentage of European monarchs with kinship ties increased threefold. Together, these findings help explain the well- documented decrease in European war frequency.

  • Cruz, Cesi, Julien Labonne, and Pablo Querubin. 2017. “Politician Family Networks and Electoral Outcomes: Evidence from the Philippines.”American Economic Review 107(10): 3006–37.

    We demonstrate the importance of politician social networks for electoral outcomes. Using large-scale data on family networks from over 20 million individuals in 15,000 villages in the Philippines, we show that candidates for public office are disproportionately drawn from more central families and family network centrality contributes to higher vote shares during the elections. Consistent with our theory of political intermediation, we present evidence that family network centrality facilitates relationships of political exchange. Moreover, we show that family networks exercise an effect independent of wealth, historical elite status, or previous electoral success.

  • Ma, Debin, and Shuo Chen. 2020. “States and Wars: China’s Long March towards Unity and its Consequences, 221BC-1911AD.” CEPR Working Paper.

    We examine the long-term pattern of state formation and the mythical historical Chinese unity under one single political regime based on the compilation of a large geocoded annual data series of political regimes and incidences of warfare between 221 BC and 1911 AD. By classifying our data sets into two types of regimes – agrarian and nomadic – and three types of warfare–agrarian/nomadic, agrarian/agrarian and internal rebellions – and applying an Autoregressive Distributed Lag (ARDL) model, we find that nomadic-agrarian warfare and internal rebellion strengthens unification but agrarian/agrarian warfare entrenches fragmentation. Our research highlights the combination of China’s precocious ideology of a single unified ruler, environmental circumscription on the easternmost end of Eurasia and persistent agrarian-nomadic warfare as the driving force behind China’s eventual unity. We further discuss the long-run implications of Chinese unity on economic performance in a global context.

  • Padgett, John F, and Christopher K Ansell. 1993. “Robust Action and the Rise of the Medici, 1400–1434.” American Journal of Sociology 98 (6): 1259–1319.

    We analyze the centralization of political parties and elite networks that underlay the birth of the Renaissance state in Florence. Class revolt and fisical crisis were the ultimate causes of elite consolidation, but Medicean political control was produced by means of network disjunctures within the elite, which the Medici alone spanned. Cosimo de’ Medici’s multivocal identity as sphinx harnessed the power available in these network holes and resolved the contradiction between judge and boss inherent in all organizations. Methodologically, we argue that to understand state formation one must penetrate beneath the veneer of formal institutions, groups, and goals down to the relational substrata of peoples’ actual lives. Ambiguity and heterogeneity, not planning and self- interest, are the raw materials of which powerful states and persons are constructed.

  • Padgett, John F., Katalin Prajda, Benjamin Rohr, and Jonathan Schoots. 2020. “Political discussion and debate in narrative time: the Florentine Consulte e Pratiche, 1376–1378.” Poetics 101377.

    The Florentine Consulte e Pratiche is the oldest recorded series of speech-by-speech policy discussion by political elites in European history, over one hundred and fifty years in length. This article is the first of an extended two-article sequence on political discussion in the Consulte e Pratiche, during the 1376–1378 period of the War of Eight Saints, which led up to the famous Ciompi Revolt. Our interest is in discovering both the semantic network (article 1) and the factional-network (article 2) mechanics of this unexpected spillover from foreign-policy conflict into domestic revolt. Our central finding at the semantic level, in this first article, is that the spillover from war to revolution was mediated through the ceremonial and political-economy sides of religion.

    The methodology in this first article is to uncover the evolving narrative-network structures exhibited in Florentine political discussion – namely, changing inter-correlations among keywords about topics, through chapters and subplots. “Narrative-network analysis” for us means (a) uncovering changing topological portraits of how subplots interlink through time, and (b) discovering interlocking linguistic “hinges” through which new
    historical trajectories of subplot combinations become defined. In our case, the linguistic hinges between foreign policy and domestic revolt were rooted in religion. How the evolving issues and topics discussed in this article express themselves in domestic (and eventually violent) political conflict between the anti-war Parte Guelfa faction and the pro-war Civic ‘faction’ will be the subject of the second of this complementary pair of articles.

  • Wang, Yuhua. 2021. “Elite Kinship Networks and State-Building Preferences in Imperial China.” Working Paper.

    A long tradition in social sciences scholarship has established that kinship-based institutions undermine state building. I argue that kinship networks, when geographically dispersed, cross-cut local cleavages and allow elites to internalize the gains to others from regions far from their own. Dispersed kinship networks, therefore, align the incentives of self-interested elites in favor of state building. I evaluate my argument by examining elite preferences during a state-building reform in 11th century China. I map politicians’ kinship networks using their tomb epitaphs and collect data on their political allegiances from archival materials. Statistical analysis and narrative evidence demonstrate that dispersed kinship networks align elites’ family interests with state interests and incentivize elites to support building a strong central state. My findings highlight the importance of elite social structure in facilitating state development and help understand state building in China – a useful, yet understudied, counterpoint to the Euro-centric literature.

Here we integrate what we learned in the discussions of the previous modules. Therefore, all references listed above will be used.