Historian Says the World Needs a New Origins Story Based on Science

Historians in the News




Over at The Edge, John Brockman features British historian David Christian on the need to come up with a new origin story that can serve the global community.

Christian, the author of This Fleeting World: A Short History of Humanity, started his career as a professor of Russian history, and over the years as he refined his lectures on the Cold War, he realized… 

…I was giving the subliminal message that humans are divided, at a fundamental level, into competing tribes. Having lived through the Cuban Missile Crisis, I remember it vividly. I was a schoolboy in England where this tribalism threatened to blow us all up. That was a very vivid experience for me. I thought, for historians to keep teaching this subliminal message—that we’re divided by tribes—is not a good thing.


So Christian began a program to teach ‘big history’–the story of the whole world, from the Big Bang up to the present day. The goal: to help transcend the tribalisms perpetuated by narrower ethnic and religious histories.

But he soon discovered he needed to offer students something more than a universal story. He also had to place it in context so that students could derive a meaningful sense of place, of purpose. Science in the broad sense had the tools to provide it–but in practice it was more complicated.




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