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David Christian (historian)

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David Christian (historian)

David Gilbert Christian
Born David Gilbert Christian
(1946-06-30)June 30, 1946
Brooklyn, New York, U.S.
Residence Australia
Fields Big History
History of Russia
Institutions Macquarie University
in Sydney, Australia
San Diego State U.
Education Oxford University
Alma mater Oxford University
B.A., Ph.D.
Known for pioneering Big History field
Notable awards World History Association
Book Prize Maps of Time (2005)

David Gilbert Christian (born 1946) is an Anglo-American historian and scholar of Russian history notable for creating and spearheading an interdisciplinary approach known as Big History.[1][2] He began teaching the first course in 1989 which examined history from the Big Bang to the present using a multidisciplinary approach[3][4] with assistance from scholars in diverse specializations from the sciences, social sciences, and humanities.[3] The course frames human history in terms of cosmic, geological, and biological history.[5] He is credited with coining the term Big History[6][7] and he serves as president of the International Big History Association.[5] 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.[5][8]

Early life

Christian was born in Brooklyn, New York, to British and American parents. He grew up in 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.[1][9][10]

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.[11] He taught at Macquarie University in Sydney, Australia from 1975 to 2000.[9]

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.[12] 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.[1] 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.[13]

Christian transferred to San Diego State University in California in 2001.[9] He taught students in subjects such as world history and the history of the environment, as well as the history of Inner Eurasia.[9] In 2005, his 600-page book Maps of Time was published which a reviewer described as a "remarkable work of synthesis and scholarship."[14] Christian has additional teaching affiliations with the University of Vermont and Ewha Women's University in Seoul.[9] In 2009, he transferred back to Macquarie University.[9][8]

In 2010, Christian predicted that historical scholarship would have less emphasis on document-based research and more on empirical research, and he wrote:[9][14]

...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.
—David Christian in History and Theory, 2010[14]

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


  • Maps of Time: An Introduction to Big History, 2005, California press[14]
  • Bread and Salt: A Social and Economic History of Food and Drink in Russia, 1984, co-written with REF Smith[15]
  • Big History: Between Nothing and Everything, 1st edition, 2014, McGraw-Hill Education (co-written by Cynthia Stokes Brown and Craig Benjamin)

See also


  1. ^ a b c Vanessa Thorpe (27 October 2012). "Big History theories pose latest challenge to traditional curriculum: Maverick academic's 'Big History' – which is backed by Bill Gates – is subject of new documentary". The Guardian. Retrieved 2012-12-13. Big History, a movement spearheaded by the Oxford-educated maverick historian David Christian,.... 
  2. ^ EMILY EAKIN (January 12, 2002). "For Big History, The Past Begins At the Beginning". The New York Times. Retrieved 2012-12-13. 
  3. ^ a b PATRICIA COHEN (September 26, 2011). "History That’s Written in Beads as Well as in Words". The New York Times. Retrieved 2012-12-13. 
  4. ^ Ursula Goodenough (February 10, 2011). "'"It's Time For A New Narrative; It's Time For 'Big History. NPR. Retrieved 2012-12-13. 
  5. ^ a b c Rev. Michael Dowd (May 8, 2012). "Big History Hits the Big Time". Huffington Post. Retrieved 2012-12-13. 
  6. ^ Craig Benjamin of Grand Valley State University (July 2012). "Recent Developments in Big History". History of Science Society. Retrieved 2012-12-13. Vol. 41, No. 3, 
  7. ^ "Mankind: The Story of All of Us". BBC History Magazine. November 14, 2012. Retrieved 2012-12-31. ...a series informed by ideas around ‘big history’, David Christian’s notion that we should look for common themes and patterns ..... 
  8. ^ a b Stephen Pritchard (3 November 2012). "For the record". The Observer. Retrieved 2012-12-31. Prof Christian ... left for San Diego in 2001 but returned to Macquarie in 2009. 
  9. ^ a b c d e f g "Professor David Christian". Macquarie University. Retrieved 2012-12-31. 
  10. ^ The Teaching Company, David Christian Great Courses professor reference page, Retrieved Sept. 8, 2014
  11. ^ "Communism Knew Diversity Before Gorbachev...". The New York Times. February 12, 1989. Retrieved 2012-12-31. ...As R.E.F. Smith and David Christian showed in 1984, in Bread and Salt, even dairy products were generally used as seasoning..... 
  12. ^ "Speakers David Christian: Historian". TED. 2012-12-30. ...David Christian is by training a historian of Russia and the Soviet Union, but since the 1980s he has become interested in world history on very large scales. 
  13. ^ "Big History: The Big Bang, Life on Earth, and the Rise of Humanity". The Teaching Company's Great Courses. Retrieved 15 May 2013. 
  14. ^ a b c d David Christian (December 2010). "The Return of Universal History". History and Theory. Retrieved 2012-12-31. 49, 6-27 ...Today, however, there are many signs of a return to universal history.... 
  15. ^ Roger Munting and Stephen Rashid (4 July 2010). "REF Smith obituary". The Guardian. Retrieved 2012-12-31. ...His last monograph ... jointly written with David Christian.... 

External links

  • Works by or about David Christian in libraries (WorldCat catalog)
  • David Christian: Big history. 2011. TED Talk.
  • Big History: The Big Bang, Life on Earth, and the Rise of Humanity The Teaching Company course taught by David Christian
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