February 20, 2015, Simon DeDeo, Information theory and the civilizing process in London’s Old Bailey

Social Science Research Building, 305
Assistant Professor, Indiana University
External Professor, Santa Fe Institute

One of the characteristics of the modern era is the emergence of new bureaucratic and social mechanisms for the management and control of violence. Our information-theoretic analysis of 150 years of spoken word testimony in the English criminal justice system provides new insight into this critical process. We show how, beginning around the 1800s, trials for violent and nonviolent offenses become increasingly distinct. Driven by a shifting set of underlying signals, this long-term shift in the underlying norms of the system involves both changes in bureaucratic practice and in civil society as a whole. This work validates new methods for the study of previously inaccessible epistemic phenomena hidden in historical archives — facts not only about what people did, but about what they could have known and could have believed. I conclude with new extensions of this work to the study of discourse and ideology in the French Revolution, through the Archives Parlementaires, and in the US Congressional Record.

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