Mason Scientists Partner with Smithsonian to Study Civilizations

Posted: February 8, 2006 at 1:00 am, Last Updated: November 30, -0001 at 12:00 am

By Lori Jennings

Scientists at George Mason’s Center for Social Complexity are collaborating with researchers at the Smithsonian Institution to conduct computer simulation modeling research on long-term interactions between societal and environmental dynamics affecting polities in Inner Asia over the past 5,000 years.

The team has a three-year, $583,773 research grant from the Human and Social Dynamics Program of the National Science Foundation.

Using the Mongol Empire as a model, the project is expected to produce new insights and knowledge on the long-term dynamics of societal changes that co-evolve with natural environments.

Photo of Claudio Cioffi-Revilla
Claudio Cioffi-Revilla

“It is our goal that by studying the Mongol Empire – the largest territorial polity in human history – we will be rewarded with a wealth of data previously undiscovered,” says Claudio Cioffi-Revilla, principal investigator on the project. Cioffi-Revilla is director of the Center for Social Complexity, based in the Krasnow Institute for Advanced Study.

“This data will allow us to make comparisons and draw conclusions that can be applied to modern-day civilizations, such as looking at societal fluctuations in terms of expansions and declines, and how such dynamics interact with natural and man-made environments like trade networks,” he explains.

“Globalization did not begin with the fall of the Berlin Wall; it began when Asian polities began interacting among themselves and neighboring polities to the East and West, with consequential civilizational encounters, pandemics and other effects visible today as well.”

New databases produced by this project will document for the first time the rise, development and fall of polities in Inner Asia for a time period extending from approximately 3,000 B.C. to the present. At its maximum size in the late 13th century, the Mongol Empire extended from the Sea of Japan to the Mediterranean and Eastern Europe.

The main computer modeling effort will consist of a series of simulations that will capture human patterns such as population movements, land-usage, road and trade networks and alliances and conflicts. All data and models from the project will be made public and disseminated through publications, presentations and a dedicated web site presently under construction.

The team of investigators is led by Cioffi-Revilla and comprises junior and senior faculty, students and postdoctoral researchers from both George Mason and the Department of Anthropology of the Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of Natural History (NMNH), led by Daniel Rogers.

Faculty members on the Mason team include Sean Luke, Computer Science; Dawn Parker, Environmental Science and Geography; and Maksim (Max) Tsvetovat, Computational Social Science and Public and International Affairs. Graduate student assistants are Gabriel Catalin Balan, Art Ghazaryan, Joey Harrison, Liviu Panait and Mohammad Mussavi Rizi.

At the Smithsonian, in addition to Rogers, the team includes William W. Fitzhugh, Bruno Frohlich, William Honeychurch, and Paula DePriest.

International collaborators include researchers from the Mongolian Academy of Sciences; the Keldysh Institute for Applied Mathematics of the Russian Academy of Sciences, Moscow; and the Institute of Cognitive Science and Technology of the Italian National Research Council, Rome.

The Center for Social Complexity serves as a leading research unit for conducting advanced research on computational social science through simulation models and related advanced computational methods. The program offers graduate courses, a specialized certificate and the nation’s first PhD program in the specific area of computational social science.

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