Associate Professor in Cultural Evolution, Fellow in Anthropology (2016 - ), Tutor for Graduates: Dr Pieter François, BA MA (Ghent), PhD (London)


Dr. Pieter Francois is an Associate Professor in Cultural Evolution and Fellow in Anthropology and the Dean of St. Benet’s Hall, University of Oxford. Since October 2018 he has been Director of Studies in Human Sciences at St. Benet’s. At the Institute of Cognitive and Evolutionary Anthropology he is the Research Coordinator and Senior Researcher of the Cultural Evolution Lab.

He is the Founding Director of the Seshat: Global History Databank. Over the past seven years the Seshat project has attracted several multi-million grants of which Dr. Francois is usually the Co-PI or Co-I. These grants include an ESRC Large Grant ‘Ritual, Community, and Conflict’, a Horizon2020 grant ‘ALIGNED: Quality-centric Software and Data Engineering’, and recently an ERC Advanced Grant ‘Ritual Modes: Divergent modes of ritual, social cohesion, prosociality, and conflict (PI Harvey Whitehouse)’.

Before joining St. Benet’s Hall he was a Senior Lecturer in Digital History and director of the Cliodynamics Lab at the University of Hertfordshire.

Research interests

Dr. Francois is a leading scholar in the field of Digital Humanities with a particular strength in designing large-scale collaborative projects. His research fits within two broad strands. A first strand focuses on novel ways to integrate the social sciences and the humanities. He is especially interested in fostering such a consilience between the disciplines of history, cultural evolution and the digital humanities. His Seshat project brings together historical and archaeological Big Data to study changes playing out over long timescales, usually millennia. He has worked and published on such fundamental changes in the evolution of social complexity, ritual and ritualistic behaviour, warfare, and levels of inequality.

A second strand of his research focuses on applying a digital humanities approach to the study of nineteenth century travel, migration and history of the book. In 2013 he won the international British Library Labs competition with his ‘Sample Generator for Digitized Texts’. He is currently working on nineteenth-century British travellers to the Continent and on nineteenth-century intercity migration within Ostend, Belgium. He is also a Member of the Management Committee of Cost Action ‘Distant Reading for European Literary History’.

Selected publications

1) Pieter Francois, J.G. Manning, Harvey Whitehouse, Rob Brennan, Thomas Currie, Kevin Feeney, Peter Turchin, ‘A Macroscope for Global History. Seshat Global History Databank, a methodological overview’, Digital Humanities Quarterly, 2016, 10.4.

2) Harvey Whitehouse, Pieter Francois, Peter Turchin, ‘The Role of Ritual in the Evolution of Social Complexity: Five Predictions and a Drum Roll’, Cliodynamics: The Journal of Quantitative History and Cultural Evolution, 2015, vol. 5, no. 2, 199-216.

3) Pieter Francois. ‘If It’s 1815, This Must Be Belgium: The Origins of the Modern Travel Guide’, Book History, 2012, vol. 15, pp. 71-92.


  • Associate Professor in Cultural Evolution, Fellow in Anthropology (2016 - ), Tutor for Graduates: Dr Pieter François, BA MA (Ghent), PhD (London)