"Big history and the place of human beings in the cosmos" by Prof David Christian

Past Event

31 January 2014, 5:00pm - 6:30pm

Lecture Theatre, Oxford Martin School
34 Broad Street (corner of Holywell and Catte Streets), Oxford, OX1 3BD

This lecture is hosted by the Oxford Martin School and the Oxford Martin Programme on the Imapcts of Future Technology

Summary: Big History surveys the past at multiple scales, from those of cosmology to those of human history. Do cosmological scales reduce humans to insignificance? Surprisingly, they make us seem extraordinarily interesting if you focus not on spatial and chronological scales, but on another dimension, complexity. There are good reasons for thinking that modern human societies represent a remarkably high level of complexity. Our very existence is odd on planetary and perhaps cosmological scales. How can a universe ruled by the second law generate such complexity? And how likely is it that we are unique at cosmological scales?

This lecture will be followed by a drinks reception, all welcome.

About the Speaker

Professor 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. He taught at Macquarie University in Sydney from 1975 to 2000 before taking up a position at San Diego State University in 2001. In January 2009 he returned to Macquarie University. He has written on the social and material history of the 19th century Russian peasantry, in particular on aspects of diet and the role of alcohol. He has also written a text book history of modern Russia, and a synoptic history of Inner Eurasia (Russia, Central Asia and Mongolia). In 1989, he began teaching courses on 'Big History', surveying the past on the largest possible scales, including those of biology and astronomy; and in 2004, he published the first text on 'Big History'. At San Diego State University, he taught courses on World History, 'Big History', World Environmental History, Russian History, and the History of Inner Eurasia.

He is a member of the Australian Academy of the Humanities and the Koninklijke Hollandsche Maatschappij der Wetenschappen [Royal Holland Society of Sciences and Humanities], Affiliates Chair for the World History Association, and a member of the editorial boards of the Journal of Global History and the Cambridge History of the World. In 2008, he was appointed as a James Marsh Professor-at-Large at the University of Vermont, and also accepted appointments as a Research Fellow at Ewha Women's University in Seoul and as a Professor of History at Macquarie University in Sydney.

In 2009 David Christian received an ARC grant to support research on the second volume of his history of Inner Eurasia, which will cover the history of Russia, Central Asia and Mongolia from the Mongol Empire to the present day. Over the next few years he will also be working with the support of Bill Gates to create an online course in Big History for High School students.