David Christian, Big Historian
Sydney, Australia
Cynthia Stokes Brown (1938–2017), one of the leading scholars of Big History, died at her home in Berkeley on October 15, 2017, of pancreatic cancer. She died surrounded by her extended family.

Cynthia was born in 1938, grew up in Kentucky, and completed an undergraduate degree in history at Duke University. In 1964, she completed a doctorate on the history of education at Johns Hopkins University. She taught in high schools before moving with her first husband to Brazil. After two years and the birth of two sons, the couple returned to Berkeley in 1969 to find themselves at the epicenter  of 1960s radicalism. In 1984, Cynthia met the architect Jack Robbins, who would become her second husband. The two went climbing in many different parts of the world, from Alaska to Kilimanjaro and the mountains of Central Asia, and in 2017, Cynthia published a book describing these remarkable journeys together. From 1982, Cynthia taught at Dominican University, north of San Francisco. She is remembered there as an inspiring and generous teacher. She also published a number of books and articles on the history of education, on aspects of the civil rights movement, and on oral history.

Always interested in world history, Cynthia first read about Big History in 1991, after reading my article, “The Case for ‘Big History.’” She began teaching Big History in 2001, and started a manuscript that was eventually published in 2007 as Big History: From the Big Bang to the Present. This was one of the first books on Big History, and one of the most accessible and readable accounts of the Big History story. In 2010, Cynthia became a founding member of the International Big History Association (IBHA). With Mojgan Behmand, she helped found Dominican University’s pioneering first-year program in Big History. She contributed many articles to the free online course on Big History created, with the support of Bill Gates, through the Big History Project. Working closely with Lowell Gustafson, she played a crucial role in the development of the IBHA newsletter, Origins, and, eventually, of its journal, The Journal of Big History. With Craig Benjamin and me, she wrote the first college-level textbook on Big History: Big History: Between Nothing and Everything. Her last book, Big History: Small World: From the Big Bang to You, was written for high-school students studying Big History, and was published in 2017.

Cynthia had immense intelligence, charm, and grace and a great gift for friendship. She showed remarkable courage and equanimity in her final year, as she dealt with one of the most terrifying of all cancers.

Her warmth, kindness, and wisdom will be missed by all who knew her.

David Christian October 2017

Originally posted by the Big History Institute at: https://www.mq.edu.au/bighistory/threshold-nine/issue-twelve/vale-cynthia-stokes-brown

3 thoughts on “Tribute to Cynthia Stokes Brown

  1. I am not familiar with term “big history” but one of the books (“Big History: From the Big Bang to the Present”) of this historic (Cyntia Stokes Brown) renew my interest for human and natural history. This book gives you a clear way to look how these two players merge together in a destiny that becomes known just for us, those who are in the end of line or how was said: in the present.


    1. We’re glad to hear Cynthia’s brilliant work as a historian is still reaching new readers, thank you for your comment. The way you’ve described her book is a good summary of what the ‘big history’ concept is — a way of looking at history not only on the human scale, but within the greater context of the planet on which we live.


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