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Big History: Why We Need a Modern, Science-based Origin Story
Prof. David G. Christian, Distinguished Professor of Modern History, Macquarie University
Date : 26 Sep 2018 (Wednesday)
Time : 4:00 - 5:30 pm
Venue : CMA Lecture Theater (LT-L), Cheng Yu Tung Building, HKUST
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The great quantum physicist, Erwin Schrodinger argued just after World War II that: “We have inherited from our forefathers the keen longing for unified, all-embracing knowledge. The very name given to the highest institutions of learning reminds us, that from antiquity and throughout many centuries the universal aspect has been the only one to be given full credit.” The idea of building a modern origin story based on modern forms of science has been with us since the Enlightenment in the early 18th century. But in the late 19th century, the project vanished everywhere in the world, to be replaced by the world we know today, a world in which knowledge consists of highly specialized expertise within specific disciplines. Most scholars believe today that teaching universal knowledge is an impossible task. The speaker argues that they are wrong. Today, at last, we are in a position to complete the Enlightenment project because the science is so much richer. We also need such a story because the street maps of knowledge built within disciplines are no longer adequate to the huge, global challenges we face today. Big History attempts to tease out the storylines of a modern origin story and to make that story available both to students and to experts. In this lecture, the speaker will argue that Big History is a form of knowledge that we desperately need today, in the Anthropocene Epoch, a critical turning point in the history of humanity and of planet earth.

About the speaker

Prof. David G. Christian received his PhD in 19th-Century Russian History from University of Oxford in 1974 and joined Macquarie University in 1975. In 2001, he took up a position at San Diego State University, where he taught courses on World History, Big History, World Environmental History, Russian History, and the History of Inner Eurasia. In January 2009, he returned to Macquarie University and is currently the Distinguished Professor of Modern History.

For many years, Prof. Christian taught and researched in Russian and Soviet History, but since the 1990s he has also taught World History and courses in Big History, which cover the entire history of the Universe. With the support of Bill Gates, he helped create a free online Big History course for high school students, called the “Big History Project”. His 2011 TED talk, “A History of the Universe in 18 minutes” has been viewed more than 8 million times. He has recently published a book titled Origin Story: A Big History of Everything (Penguin, 2018).

Prof. Christian was elected a Member of the Australian Academy of the Humanities, a Member of the Royal Holland Society of Sciences and Humanities, and a Member of the editorial boards of the Journal of Global History and The Cambridge World History. In 2008, he was appointed as a James Marsh Professor-at-Large at the University of Vermont. In 2017, he was awarded an Honorary Doctorate of Humane Letters by North Carolina State University.

For attendees’ attention


  The lecture is free and open to all. Seating is on a first come, first served basis.



HKUST Jockey Club Institute for Advanced Study
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