Feb 22, 2024, 4:30 pm6:00 pm
Louis A. Simpson International Building, Room 271


Event Description
State formation depends not only on demand-side factors, such as military competition, but also, fundamentally, on the supply of ideas and techniques in a society. This talk argues that these ideas can sometimes come from unexpected quarters before then being adopted by those who rule. Using prefecture level data for China during the Tang (618-906 CE) and Northern Song (960-1127 CE) dynasties, the researchers show how woodblock printing techniques first developed by Buddhists in competition with Taoists and Confucians provided for a technology that could give a broad number of people access to the written word. This was critical for the development and expansion of the Imperial Examination system, which aided in constructing a state bureaucracy. In Medieval Western Europe, by contrast, the religious monopoly held by the Catholic Church gave it little incentive to develop new techniques to broaden access to the written word. This then helped contribute to the political divergence between China and Western Europe, as European rulers seeking to construct a bureaucracy had a more limited pool of talent to draw upon. The broader lesson here is that in order to better understand state formation, one may need to consider the incentives for social actors outside the state itself to develop new techniques.

*For those interested in attending from the public community, please contact [email protected].