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Niall Ferguson on the History’s Hidden Networks

Niall Ferguson has challenged how we think about money, power, civilisation and empires. Now he wants to reimagine history itself.

Have historians misunderstood everything? Have they missed the single greatest idea that best explains the past?

Niall Ferguson is the preeminent historian of the ideas that define our time. He has challenged how we think about money, power, civilisation and empires. Now he wants to reimagine history itself.

In october 2017, Ferguson came to the Intelligence Squared stage to unveil his new book, The Square and The Tower. Historians have always focused on hierarchies, he argued – on the elites that wield power. Economists have concentrated on the marketplace – on the economic forces that shape change. These twin structures are symbolised for Ferguson by Siena’s market square, and its civic tower looming above. But beneath both square and tower runs something more deeply significant: the hidden networks of relationships, ideas and influence.

Networks are the key to history. The greatest innovators have been ‘superhubs’ of connections. The most powerful states, empires and companies have been those with the most densely networked structures. And the most transformative ideas – from the printing presses that launched the Reformation to the Freemasonry that inspired the American Revolution – have gone viral precisely because of the networks within which they spread.

‘When we understand these core insights of network science,’ explained Ferguson, ‘the entire history of mankind looks quite different.’


Speakers

Chair

Rana Mitter

Historian, author and broadcaster


Historian, author and broadcaster. He is director of the University China Centre at the University of Oxford, where he is Professor of the History and Politics of Modern China. His new book, China's Good War: How World War II is Shaping a New Nationalism, will be published in September this year. He is a regular presenter of the arts and ideas programme Free Thinking on BBC Radio 3.
Featuring

Niall Ferguson

One of the UK’s most renowned historians, based at Stanford University


One of the UK’s most renowned historians. He is Milbank Family Senior Fellow at the Hoover Institution, Stanford University, and a senior faculty fellow of the Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs at Harvard, where he served for twelve years as the Laurence A. Tisch Professor of History. He is the author of fifteen books, including The Pity of War, The House of Rothschild, Empire, Civilization and Kissinger, 1923-1968: The Idealist, which won the Council on Foreign Relations Arthur Ross Prize. He writes a syndicated weekly column, which appears in The Sunday Times, The Boston Globe and the Neue Zürcher Zeitung, and he is the founder and managing director of the advisory firm Greenmantle LLC. His most recent book, The Square and the Tower, is a New York Times bestseller. In March 2020, a three-part television adaptation, Niall Ferguson’s Networld, was released on PBS.