Speaker shown on screen in lecture hall

World History Association annual meeting 2023 Recap

Pittsburgh 2323: Energies

The World History Association, in partnership with the University of Pittsburgh’s World History Center, held its 2023 Annual Meeting in “Steel City” Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, USA from June 22-June 24. The theme of this year’s WHA meeting was ENERGIES where scholars from across the globe will had the opportunity to present new and innovative research on a vast array of energy-related topics.

Despite its earlier smoggy, steel mill town reputation, parts of Pittsburgh have become vibrant and cosmopolitan. Pittsburgh itself located in a beautiful green, river valley, what only slightly smoky skies. The University of Pittsburgh is located near Carnegie Mellon University and the area between is filled with museums and eateries making for an interesting and lively scene.

Brian Black gave the opening keynote address, “To Have and Have Not: Tracing a World History with Energy at its Core”. Many of the presentations had an energy these, but there were several of special interest to the HistoryQuant community, such as

  • Energy, Labour and Global Commodities in Colonial South Asia (John Lourdusamy, Surabhi Rani Verma, Mahendranath Sudhindranath, Amil Varghese)
  • Panel: Meta Discourses on Energy and World History (Thanasis Kinias, Theodore J. Drizis, Shari Tarbet, Maximilian Barnett, Andrew Wender)
  • Panel: Energies and Activism in World History (Carl Nightingale, Theodore J. Drizis, Nicolas Lepine, Johann JK Reusch, Yufeng Wang)
  • Panel: The Power of Stardust: Using Big History to Understand Energy Flows in World History (Hybrid) (Maximillian Barnett, Andrey Korotayev, David LePoire, Esther Quaedackers)
  • Panel: Fossil Fuels in the 20th Century

  • “Energy: A Useful Category of Historical Analysis?” (Victor Seow)
  • “The Whole Shebang: A History of Leaders and Movements Concerning Governance Via Energy Accounting and Distribution” (presented by the author of this post).

On a bittersweet note, WHA Executive Director of Kerry Vieira will be retiring from the WHA to pursue other opportunities.

At the end of this post is a link to a full schedule (373 KB PDF).


Emergy Systems conference January 2023

A presentation was given on “A Comparison of Emergy, Exergy, Entropy and Carbon Accounting: Histories, Definitions, Methodologies, Significance and Synergies” to the Emergy Synthesis 11 conference at the University of Florida in January 2023

Abstract: This paper identifies, compares and discusses various forms of energy accounting. Emergy, Exergy, and Entropy and Accounting are each a type of energy accounting. Carbon Accounting is a proxy for energy accounting in that it often accounts for particular forms of energy, such as the use of fossil fuels. All four of these types are considered and analyzed. Energy accounting efforts have taken place since the early 20th century. Government and industry actors have tracked energy reserves and usage for purposes of strategy, distribution and taxation. Ecologists have tracked emergy for several decades, developing increasingly sophisticated methodologies. Physical scientists, engineers and supporting activists created a North American exergy survey beginning in the 1910s and revisited this effort at Columbia University during the Great Depression. Entropy accounting has been discussed for use for socio-economic, environmental and historical analysis, including in the World Systems community. Carbon accounting gained popularity in the early 2000s during concern about global warming and climate change. These are all different communities who don’t communicate much to each other. This project is intended to act, in a small way, as a “Rosetta Stone” between these communities. A history of the development, definitions and uses of each methodology are provided. An analysis of the significance of each accounting type is presented. Synergies between the forms are discussed.

People in person and online

Emergy Society 2023 conference participants


2022 Updates—Focus on Irreversible Processes

2022 was a year of exceptional personal challenges, providing special inspiration for deeper study concerning irreversible processes and related thermodynamics.

Several remote presentation were given:

  • World History Association annual meeting titled “Irreversible Processes
    in History”, World History Association Annual Conference, (Remote), Bilbao, Spain, June 23-25, 2022.
  • “Workshop: Feeding Empires—Quantitative, Digital & Graphic Simulations for History Using Food Cases”, World History Association Annual Conference, (Remote), Bilbao, Spain, June 23-25, 2022.
  • “Modeling Historical Dynasties as Emergent, Dissipative Mechanisms”, Thermodynamics 2.0 Conference, International Association for the Integration of Science and Engineering, Boone, North Carolina, July 19, 2022. (See paper here).
  • “Panel: Unity of Sciences”, Chair, Thermodynamics 2.0 Conference, International Association for the Integration of Science and Engineering, Boone, North Carolina, July 20, 2022.
Organization names arranged in circle around physical history.

Organizations related to physical history

Autumn 2021 Updates

Energy and Society Series

Covid restrictions have continued to limit in person conference activity. Conversely, remote events have the ability to more easily include people from a wider range of physical locations. In that light, a series of live Energy and Society presenter here help, and the videos videos of those presentations were posted online afterwards. The series covered topics ranging from how life emerged from natural patterns of energy, to ideas about resource management and governance, and the place of humanity in the Universe both in the past and the future.

Apple TV Asimov Foundation series commentary

As warned in a letter to the American Historical Association, “Wake-Up Call: Technologists’ Take of History Is Coming to HBO” (1 February 2015), a television series portrayal of Isaac Asimov’s Foundation science fiction story series has been in the works. The project was dropped by HBO but reconstituted by Apple TV.

Due to the publicity this television series raised concerning Asimov’s stories about a science of society and its practitioners, a paper was presented at the 2021 Social Science History Association called “A Simulation and Critique of Asimov’s Foundation Series: What Works and Fails“. That paper is written up and here available at Academia.com. It should be noted that the television series and the books share little in common except some of the character names.

World History Association Conference

The following talks were given remotely to the World History Association.

  • “Hype or Substance? Applying Artificial Intelligence to the Sustainability of Dynasties Over 3500 Years of World History”, World History Association Annual Conference, Remote, 22 – 24 June 2021.
  • “Teaching Workshop: World History Digital Lightning Talks”, World History Association Annual Conference, Remote, 22 – 24 June 2021.

Spring 2021 Update & Reflection

This is a belated update! On a personal note, I spent much of 2019 working on a university spinoff venture related to a new e-publishing platform, and then most of 2020 catching up with teaching and other employment to recover from that start-up. Covid and the civic events of 2020 also gave me pause to listen and reflect to the pain many are feeling.

HistoryQuant.com concerns the development of a unified, quantitative science of human history. There have been some extremely critical statements about the creation and utilization of science and mathematics. However, the invention and development of math and science have been neither monocultural nor mono-racial. Peoples and cultures from across the globe and throughout the course of history have made original discoveries and breakthroughs. The ancient great pyramids and structures of Asia, Africa and the Americas were not made through physical effort alone but from equally amazing edifices of math and science. Although math and science have been used at times by European cultures to facilitate oppression, neither are exclusively European or oppressive. They are the shared heritage and domain of all humans.

The relationship between history studies and sustainability is likewise complicated. History expresses stories of sustainability over centuries and millennia. A truly sustainable human society arguably requires a fundamental understanding of historical processes. Unfortunately, the term sustainability has been used to advocate preservation of resources in often inequitable ways. Historical research should not turn a blind eye to impacts on inequities in sustainability advocacy.

So what progress has been by this endeavor over the past few years?

  • Machine learning is being applied to study and compare multiple dynasties. (Results will be presented at the 2021 WHA Annual Meeting).
  • HIST 305, a digital history course (including quantitative and physical components) was created in Autumn 2019 and taught at San Francisco State University. Many of the materials for that course are available at Digital History.
  • Further educational materials have been placed at Digital, Quantitative and Physical History.
  • Research has been conducted into the thermodynamic roots of economics.
  • Analytical, spatial, and other digital techniques have been used to study the migration of nomads across central Asia and Eastern. Whimsical, exploratory simulation (as shown in the figure below), but more specific, realistic simulations are being conducted as well.
grassy areas and tiny horses

Simulation of nomadic riders across a grassy region

Presentation to Emergy Systems at U of Florida

A presentation on Emergy and efficiency analysis of historical bubbles was made at the 10th Biennial Emergy Research Conference, Emergy Synthesis 10, held at the University of Florida in Gainesville, FL, on January 25-27, 2018.

The concept of emergy is essentially the amount of available energy that has been used up to create a present quality of available energy. For example, to produce coal that can be burnt in a power plant, the coal was likely dug out by petroleum-consuming mining equipment, and transported by a petroleum-consuming train. In turn, that petroleum required a lot of energy for exploration, drilling, refining and transport to the mining equipment. Emergy comprises the sum of these energy inputs rather than the available energy in, say, a ton of coal itself. Emergy is useful in studying the flows and consumption of energy in a wide range of systems from swamp ecosystems to the global economy.

If less emery is utilized to produce one ton of coal than another, then one could say that the production process for that one ton of coal was more efficient that the process to produce the second ton of coal. Since the analysis of dynastic and economic bubbles involves efficiency, the emergy approach is of special interest to physical and quantitative history.


Publication: Navigating the Currents of History


This piece is part of a forum on Organizing World History in World History Connected organized by Rick Szostak of the University of Alberta.

“Navigating the Currents of History” (World History Connected, University of Illinois Press, February 2018) represents an attempt to create a generic, but unified conceptual language to describe a broad range of phenomena, ranging from history to the geosciences. The goal such an effort is to make it easier to compare diverse phenomena to recognize similarities and also to develop a deeper understanding of the fundamental principles that unify these diverse areas.

Bar chart of duration of Chinese dynasties versus time, with a slight downward trend.

Duration of Chinese dynasties versus time

HistoryQuant Update—November 2016 to January 2018

(It has been over a year since the last update, but I needed to temporarily reduce activities to spend more time dealing with family health issues. Hence the update hiatus.)


There have been two areas of special effort. The first is to develop a generic but unified language that describes a broad range of phenomena, ranging from history to planetary processes. The second is to delve further into physical and geographic data and analysis.

Recent work has focused upon entering more data into the Colossus world history simulator and analyzing the relations between additional dynasties.


  • “The Colossus History Grid: integrating network and spatial models of world history,” Annual Meeting of the Social Science History Association—Beyond Social Science History: Knowledge in an Interdisciplinary World, Chicago, Illinois, 17-20 November 2016
  • “Lessons About Historical, Economic and Resource Bubbles from the Rise and Fall of Spain’s Golden New World,” World History Association Annual Conference, Boston, Massachusetts, 22 – 24 June 2017.
  • “Workshop: Feeding Empires—Quantitative, Digital & Graphic Simulations for History Using Food Cases,” World History Association Annual Conference, Boston, Massachusetts, 22 – 24 June 2017.
  • “Emergy and Efficiency Analysis of Historical Bubbles,” 10th Biennial Emergy Research Conference, Gainesville, Florida, January 25-27 2018.