PI’s Robert Jervis and Richard Hanania have embarked on a two-year project entitled, “Continuity and Change in International Society: Tracing the Development of International Institutions through Automated Content Analysis.” Over the last several years, scholars have begun to take seriously the idea that the values of international society have changed in fundamental ways, and that this in turn is a driving force behind many of the great developments that have been noted by historians. Two books that take up this theme and have received widespread attention are The Better Angels of Our Nature by Steven Pinker and The Internationalists by Oona Hathaway and Scott Shapiro. These works combine statistical analysis with the adept use of historical anecdotes to tell a compelling story of how much humanity has progressed over the course of history.
While quantitative work on the decline of war and changes in death rates over time are convincing, the question of why this has happened remains hard to pin down. Anecdotes purporting to illustrate increasing humanity among leaders and the general public may be compelling, but one can question whether certain case studies and individual profiles are at all representative of their time and place. If we accept that the values of international actors have changed over time, how can we go about proving it? What is the role of international institutions in this process, given their prestige and ability to shape the incentive structure in which states operate (e.g. Vaubel 2006; Schaefer and Ginsburg 2012)? With these questions in mind, they are developing the technical skills necessary to test specific theories of how the nature of international society has changed across history.