Okayama University


About the center

The Center for Research on the Dynamics of Civilizations was established on
October 1, 2018, within the Graduate School of Humanities and Social Sciences


Purpose of the center

There are approximately 7.6 billion humans (Homo sapiens) currently living on planet earth, making up 90% of the terrestrial vertebrate biomass when combined with domesticated animals. Numbering less than 100,000 individuals ten thousand years before the current era, this biological prosperity enjoyed by humans was galvanized by adaptations to the significant climatic and environmental changes following the end of the last glacial period, including the human engineering of nature through agriculture and animal husbandry, technological developments producing new tools and living conditions, new worldviews and values, and the formation of new social relationships. These adaptations represent a uniquely human phenomenon (civilization).

In exchange for this prosperity, however, humans have also caused numerous problems, reaching a stage where even the survival of human society is threatened. In order to overcome the challenges currently facing humans, such as environmental destruction, warfare, discrimination, and poverty, it is necessary to uncover their underlying causes. As all of these issues were born from historical processes at the juncture of humans, society, technology, and the environment, it is difficult to clarify their fundamental causes through individual research on each issue or short-term investigations into their interrelation.

An exploration of the mechanisms behind the dynamics of civilization requires the construction of an interdisciplinary research framework integrating related fields within the humanities and social sciences with scientific research. Conducting multiscalar research at the long-, medium-, and short-term levels on the dynamics of civilization, which develop through interaction between humans and the environment, and integrating the results allows the elucidation of universal factors and cultural and historical processes that would not otherwise be revealed through narrower approaches.

In order to develop new research methods and pursue survey research, our center conducts close joint research with scientists utilizing the latest technology both inside and outside the university. Additionally, in order to conduct multifaceted comparisons of research results centered on the Okayama region with domestic and international cases from diverse natural environments and historical processes, we cooperate with institutions from across the country and other regions of the globe to create a network promoting interdisciplinary and cutting-edge research.

Our center’s research reveals new information concerning the universal mechanisms of the dynamics of civilization, the importance of cultural and historical factors, and the reality of resilience to environmental change, thereby allowing concrete elucidation of how human’s unique nature affected the surrounding natural environment and by what mechanisms humans constructed culture, civilization, and society. Additionally, in an effort to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), we have established an exhibition room for the practice of Education for Sustainable Development (ESD) based on our research, are working to strengthen the “glocal” dissemination of our research results, and are positioning ourselves as a network hub in the preservation and utilization of historical materials and cultural properties within the Chugoku and Shikoku regions. Our center is embarking on new initiatives to coordinate with local society in order to ensure its sustainability and development.

The center comprises the following two sections.

Section for Fundamental Scientific Research on Civilizations: This section aims to develop new research methods in order to obtain information on society and the environment from historical and cultural materials. In addition to various methods of scientific analysis and modeling using computer simulations and GIS (Geographic Information System) analysis, initiatives also include the effective dissemination of research results utilizing the latest digital technology, the promotion and use of cultural heritage, and the development of educational programs. Additionally, through the detailed reconstruction of environmental change utilizing scientific methods, from the large-scale environmental change seen following the end of the last glacial period through the climate change of today, and the comparison of this data with changes in human activity reconstructed from archaeological and historical data, this section elucidates the dynamic relationship between humans and the environment. Research is conducted on areas with highly universal applicability, such as the reality of adaptation to and modification of the environment in hunter-gatherer societies, which dominated a majority of human history, the beginning of agriculture, which presented a significant turning point for humanity, and the response of civilizations to cyclical climate change.

Section for Research on the Dynamics of Societies: Focusing on the factors contributing to change in social systems and human relations, including social rank, gender, and intergroup relationships, and the causes behind environmental and demographic variation, this section aims to elucidate the nature of the formation of society unique to humans, notably characterized by explosive population growth and technological development. In particular, the clarification of the mechanisms leading to state formation is crucial for deepening our understanding of the dynamics of society and will contribute to the advance of international comparative research.

The Graduate School of Humanities and Social Sciences promotes comparative research and vibrant discussion through the Center for Research on the Dynamics of Civilizations. Additionally, through the international dissemination of research results, the center positions the history of the Japanese archipelago within the global history of humanity and strives to transcend the traditional limits of the humanities by answering the universal questions of “Where did we come from, who are we, and where are we headed?” through empirical research. We thank you for your continued support and cooperation.

Initiatives for the achievement of SDGs

(1) Ensure education for the appreciation of cultural diversity and of culture’s contribution to sustainable development (Goal 4.7)
(2) Make cities and human settlements inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable (Goal 11)
(3) Strengthen resilience and adaptive capacity to climate-related hazards and natural disasters in all countries (Goal 13.1)