Daniel Lord Smail

Professor, History, Harvard University

Specific Metaknowledge Interests

I am interested in the way in which some kinds of knowledge have been deliberately preserved in human societies, in the form of archives, and what this act of preservation can tell us about the societies in general. This is a concern for metaknowledge to the degree that whereas historians like me typically read the content of archives, I am interested here in the form of the archive or the habit of archiving. I am also interested in seeing whether there are mathematical ways to understand or model the loss of archival materials.


I am a student of early human history; in my teaching and research, I cover a span of time from humanity’s deep history in Africa to Mediterranean Europe in the later middle ages. The overarching intellectual project of my work in recent years has been to identify and develop new frames or narratives for binding human history together into a seamless whole. I work under the assumption that history is not a political science designed to explain the present. It is an anthropological science designed to help us understand humanity. In everything I do, I hope to show how the intellectual projects that drive transnational and global histories work equally well across time, and to offer the deep past as the new intellectual frontier of historical research and historical framing in the twenty-first century.

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