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History News Network

History News Network puts current events into historical perspective. Subscribe to our newsletter for new perspectives on the ways history continues to resonate in the present. Explore our archive of thousands of original op-eds and curated stories from around the web. Join us to learn more about the past, now.

Science Relevant to History

Credit: Wiki Commons/HNN staff.

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HNN Blogs

  • (R)evolutionary Biology By David P. Barash
  • Stone Age Brain By Rick Shenkman 

  • Memory

  • Study of Memory in Psychology
  • Quirks of Memory Everyone Should Know
  • How Memory Speaks  By Jerome Groopman
  • How Not to be the Next Brian Williams By Christopher Chabris and Daniel Simons
  • How Memory Works: Interview with Psychologist Daniel L. Schacter By Robin Lindley
  • The Surprising Reason We Have a Memory By Michio Kaku

  • Big History

  • The Big History Project:  "It is a course that covers history from the big bang through to the present in an interdisciplinary way." (Funded by Bill Gates)
  • Cosmos:  A Spacetime Odyssey 
  • What happens when historian Yuval Noah Harari and psychology's Daniel Kahneman meet up?  Find out.
  • Historian David Christian Says the World Needs a New Origins Story Based on Science

  • Statistical Approaches to History

  • Can Math Be Used to Better Understand History? By Peter Turchin
  • Biologists say there’s a way to turn history scientific By Peter Turchin
  • The mathematics of history TED Talk with Jean-Baptiste Michel

  • Big Data

  • Historians at Columbia University are using big data to draw historical conclusions 
  • The 100 most important figures from history
  • Computer scientists say they figured out how to rank historical figures
  • Historians still needed! (Where Big Data goes wrong)

  • Behavioral Economics

  • The Myth of the Rational Voter By Susan J. Matt

  • Evolutionary Approaches to History

  • The Evolutionary Origins of Politics:  An Interview with Avi Tuschman
  • The Key to the Success of Homo Sapiens By Yuval Noah Harari
  • Yuval Noah Harari interviewed about his history of Sapiens (that’s us and others in the Homo genus)
  • The Evolutionary and Social History of Crying By Michael Trimble

  • History and Neuroscience

  • On Our Evolving Knowledge of the Brain and Nervous System:  An Interview with Dr. Mitchell Glickstein By Robin Lindley
  • History Gets Into Bed with Psychology, and It’s a Happy Match By Carol Tavris
  • Historians Aren't Intellectually Equipped to Understand Science By Edward Shorter
  • History Meets Neuroscience By Daniel Lord Smail
  • What Can Historians Learn from Neuroscience? By Christopher U.M. Smith
  • Phineas Gage, Neuroscience’s Most Famous Patient

  • Neurohistory:  Background

  • What Is Neurohistory? (UCLA)
  • Clio's Psyche and the Psychohistory Forum
  • Are Political Orientations Genetically Transmitted? (2005) By John Alford, Carolyn Funk, and John R. Hibbing
  • Foreward to Man Is By Nature a Political Animal By James Druckman

  • Neuro-Social Science Based Analysis & Commentary

  • This Research Suggests Why Historians Have to Begin Acknowledging that Biology Is a Key Factor in a Person’s Politics By John R. Hibbing, Kevin B. Smith, and John R. Alford 
  • New Study: The world's a lot more violent than reported By Rick Shenkman
  • What’s the Matter with Kansas?  Nothing By Jason Weeden and Robert Kurzban
  • Rethinking One of Psychology's Most Infamous Experiments:  Stanley Milgram's electric shock experiments
  • Why Nations Fight By E.O. Wilson
  • Hindsight is not such a wonderful thing after all say scientists 
  • The Science (and History) of Disgust: Interview with Psychologist Rachel Herz on Understanding Human Repulsion By Robin Lindley
  • How Does Obama's Personality Stack Up Against FDR's? By Andrew M. Obritsch: 
  • Mitt Romney’s Leadership Style Andrew M. Obritsch: 
  • What Really Killed William Henry Harrison?
  • The Psychology of Hate: How We Deny Human Beings Their Humanity

  • Climate Change

  • Climate Change:  HNN Index
  • The Anthropocene began with species exchange between Old and New Worlds 
  • It's Too Soon to Call This the Anthropocene By Vaclav Smil

  • Science and Race

  • Looking to Science for Answers About Race By Michael Yudell
  • Proposed 1920s Orphanage Study Just one Example in History of Scientific Racism  By Michael Yudell
  • HNN Index of Articles on Nicholas Wade's Book, A Troublesome Inheritance

  • Books

    "What goes on in a person's brain a second before the behavior happens? Then he pulls out to a slightly larger field of vision, a little earlier in time: What sight, sound, or smell triggers the nervous system to produce that behavior? And then, what hormones act hours to days earlier to change how responsive that individual is to the stimuli which trigger the nervous system? By now, he has increased our field of vision so that we are thinking about neurobiology and the sensory world of our environment and endocrinology in trying to explain what happened."

    "In the international bestseller, Thinking, Fast and Slow, Daniel Kahneman, the renowned psychologist and winner of the Nobel Prize in Economics, takes us on a groundbreaking tour of the mind and explains the two systems that drive the way we think. System 1 is fast, intuitive, and emotional; System 2 is slower, more deliberative, and more logical. The impact of overconfidence on corporate strategies, the difficulties of predicting what will make us happy in the future, the profound effect of cognitive biases on everything from playing the stock market to planning our next vacation―each of these can be understood only by knowing how the two systems shape our judgments and decisions."

    "Buried in many people and operating largely outside the realm of conscious thought are forces inclining us toward liberal or conservative political convictions. Our biology predisposes us to see and understand the world in different ways, not always reason and the careful consideration of facts. These predispositions are in turn responsible for a significant portion of the political and ideological conflict that marks human history."

    "Why do so many millions of ordinary voters believe Barack Obama is a Muslim and that he was born in Kenya? Why do millions still believe WMD were found in Iraq after the war? Why did a majority believe that Saddam was behind 9-11 on the eve of the Iraq War? These are some of the important questions answered in bestselling historian Rick Shenkman's Political Animals: How Our Stone-Age Brain Gets in the Way of Smart Politics."

    "In Man Is by Nature a Political Animal, Peter K. Hatemi and Rose McDermott bring together a diverse group of contributors to examine the ways in which evolutionary theory and biological research are increasingly informing analyses of political behavior."

    "In Political Psychology: Neuroscience, Genetics, and Politics, scholar George Marcus provides a cutting-edge introduction that discusses the field's origins, evolution, and possibilities.... [T]his ... volume includes a ... account of the ideas that underpin political psychology-- [from] Ancient Greece ... to today-- highlighting the deep intellectual roots and continuous vitality of the field." 

    "Our political Nature is the first book to reveal the hidden roots of our most deeply held moral values. It shows how political orientations across space and time arise from three clusters of measurable personality traits. These clusters entail opposing attitudes toward tribalism, inequality, and differing perceptions of human nature. Together, these traits are by far the most powerful cause of left-right voting, even leading people to regularly vote against their economic interests." 

    "One hundred thousand years ago, at least six different species of humans inhabited Earth. Yet today there is only one—homo sapiens. What happened to the others? And what may happen to us? Most books about the history of humanity pursue either a historical or a biological approach, but Dr. Yuval Noah Harari breaks the mold with this highly original book that begins about 70,000 years ago with the appearance of modern cognition. From examining the role evolving humans have played in the global ecosystem to charting the rise of empires, Sapiens integrates history and science to reconsider accepted narratives, connect past developments with contemporary concerns, and examine specific events within the context of larger ideas." 

    "In The Secret Life of Pronouns, social psychologist and language expert James W. Pennebaker uses his groundbreaking research in computational linguistics-in essence, counting the frequency of words we use-to show that our language carries secrets about our feelings, our self-concept, and our social intelligence. Our most forgettable words, such as pronouns and prepositions, can be the most revealing: their patterns are as distinctive as fingerprints."

    Of interest to historians: His research can help us understand when a leader is planning on war and under stress. The research also helps us understand who presidents really are ... social or withdrawn, secure or uncomfortable in their own skin.

    "Where did we come from? What are we? Where are we going? In a generational work of clarity and passion, one of our greatest living scientists directly addresses these three fundamental questions of religion, philosophy, and science while “overturning the famous theory that evolution naturally encourages creatures to put family first” (Discover magazine). Refashioning the story of human evolution in a work that is certain to generate headlines, Wilson draws on his remarkable knowledge of biology and social behavior to show that group selection, not kin selection, is the primary driving force of human evolution. He proves that history makes no sense without prehistory, and prehistory makes no sense without biology. Demonstrating that the sources of morality, religion, and the creative arts are fundamentally biological in nature, Wilson presents us with the clearest explanation ever produced as to the origin of the human condition and why it resulted in our domination of the Earth’s biosphere"


    Paul Zak explains why our brain likes stories.

    Peter Hatemi explains how biology is changing our views on politics.