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David Christian (historian)

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Name  David Christian
Role  Historian

Education  University of Oxford
Residence  Australia
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Born  David Gilbert Christian December 8, 1946 (age 69) Brooklyn, New York, U.S. (1946-12-08)
Fields  Big History History of Russia
Institutions  Macquarie University in Sydney, Australia San Diego State U.
Alma mater  Oxford University B.A., Ph.D. University of Western Ontario M.A.
Known for  Pioneering the field of Big History
Notable awards  World History Association Book Prize Maps of Time (2005)
People also search for  Cynthia Stokes Brown, Ross E. Dunn, Brett Bowden
Books  Maps of time, This fleeting world, Big History: Between Nothing a, A history of Russia - Central A, Imperial and Soviet Russia

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David Gilbert Christian (born June 30, 1946) is an American historian and scholar of Russian history, who is notable for teaching and promoting the emerging discipline of Big History. He began teaching the first course in 1989 which examined history from the Big Bang to the present using a multidisciplinary approach with assistance from scholars in diverse specializations from the sciences, social sciences, and humanities. The course frames human history in terms of cosmic, geological, and biological history. He is credited with coining the term Big History and he serves as president of the International Big History Association. Christian's best-selling Teaching Company course entitled Big History caught the attention of philanthropist Bill Gates who is personally funding Christian's efforts to develop a program to bring the course to high school students worldwide.


Big history anthropocene conference big historian professor david christian keynote address

Early life

Christian was born in Brooklyn, New York, to British and American parents. He grew up in Nigeria, Africa and in England, where he earned his B.A. from Oxford University, an M.A. in Russian history from the University of Western Ontario, and a Ph.D. in 19th century Russian history from Oxford University in 1974.

Academic career

Christian's early research interests focused on the history of Russia and the Soviet Union, with particular emphases on the Russian peasantry, including their diet and the role of vodka in their lives. He published several books on these subjects. In 1984, he co-wrote, along with REF Smith, a history about the Russian peasantry entitled Bread and Salt which showed, among other things, how such foods along with dairy products were used as seasonings. He taught at Macquarie University in Sydney, Australia from 1975 to 2000.

During the 1980s, he read widely, and began a program to describe human history in the context of very large time scales from cosmology and astronomy, covering the almost fourteen billion years since the Big Bang. He began teaching his first course, what he described as Big History, in 1989. It was a novel approach which emphasizes summary findings from biology and cosmology and astronomy and geology and anthropology to show what happened before homo sapiens became prevalent on the Earth; generally, humans are not mentioned much in the course until halfway through the 15-week semester. He wrote the book Maps of Time which mirrored the course content. The course was chosen by The Teaching Company's Great Courses and Christian recorded 48 half-hour lectures.

In 1998 he published "A History of Russia, Central Asia and Mongolia" in which he studied the steppe and forest peoples of Inner Eurasia as opposed to 'outer Eurasia' - the crescent of agrarian civilizations from Europe, the Middle East and India to China.

Christian transferred to San Diego State University in California in 2001. He taught students in subjects such as world history and the history of the environment, as well as the history of Inner Eurasia. In 2005, his 600-page book Maps of Time was published which a reviewer described as a "remarkable work of synthesis and scholarship." Christian has additional teaching affiliations with the University of Vermont and Ewha Women's University in Seoul. In 2009, he transferred back to Macquarie University.

In 2010, Christian predicted that historical scholarship would have less emphasis on document-based research and more on empirical research, and he wrote:

...Over the next fifty years we will see a return of the ancient tradition of “universal history”; but this will be a new form of universal history that is global in its practice and scientific in its spirit and methods.

Philanthropist Bill Gates presented David Christian at the TED 2011 Conference in Long Beach, California. At that time, Christian announced his Big History Project initiative to teach the subject to secondary school students in Australia and the United States. He is currently serving as President of the International Big History Association.

Awards and honors

  • 2005: World History Association Book Prize, Maps of Time
  • 2014: Distinguished Professor, Macquarie University.
  • Publications

  • Maps of Time: An Introduction to Big History, 2005, California press
  • Bread and Salt: A Social and Economic History of Food and Drink in Russia, 1984, co-written with REF Smith
  • A History of Russia, Central Asia and Mongolia, volume 1, 1998
  • Big History: Between Nothing and Everything, 1st edition, 2014, McGraw-Hill Education (co-written by Cynthia Stokes Brown and Craig Benjamin)
  • References

    David Christian (historian) Wikipedia

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