Craig Benjamin, Big History Professor, Grand Valley State University,
David Christian has been the key figure in Big History ever since he essentially invented the genre back in the late 1980s. He changed my life when, as the supervisor of my PhD dissertation on ancient Central Asia, he invited me to join him in teaching an undergraduate Big History course at Macquarie University in Sydney in 1996. For more than two decades now, I have continued to work with David on a series of projects that have helped advance the field. These have included co-authoring (with our late colleague Cynthia Stokes Brown) the first Big History text book (Big History. Between Nothing and Everything, 2014), helping to build the online educational platform that is the Big History Project, creating a series of documentaries on Big History for the History Channel, and working to establish and advance the International Big History Association.
David’s ability to recount the Big History story through a variety of media and literary styles is unparalleled. He is the author of the foundational Big History monograph, Maps of Time, a scholarly and comprehensive investigation of the field; and his work on the textbook and for the Big History Project demonstrates his ability to tell the story for high school and undergraduate college students. Now, with Origin Story, David is taking the Big History story to the world using a riveting, page turning style that has the potential to captivate an entirely new reading audience.
In Origin Story, David uses the concept of thresholds, a structural idea that is also fundamental to the textbook and the Big History Project. He argues that once certain “Goldilocks Conditions” accumulate, the Universe, planet, life, and the human species have crossed a series of thresholds of increasing complexity. He describes these thresholds in beautiful prose that is approachable and compelling.
But of course, the ultimate purpose of Big History, and indeed of the field of history in general, is to better inform us about the present and help us shape the future in a positive way. Having unfolded the sweeping story of cosmic evolution David reminds us that our species and indeed the entire planet are currently facing profound challenges and an uncertain future. Those who can understand the entirety of the origin story from a multidisciplinary perspective will be much better equipped to deal with these present and future challenges than those who only know a small part of the story. By making the Big History story so accessible to the general reader, Origin Story has the potential to better equip millions of thoughtful humans with the capacity to consider seriously where we may be headed. This is the ultimate triumph of Origin Story, and David Christian’s latest gift to the world.
About the author: Craig is a professor of history at Grand Valley State University in Allendale, Michigan, where he teaches Big History as well as East Asian civilization, ancient Central Asian history, and world historiography. He’s been an office holder on the Board of the International Big History Association since 2011, and served as President of the World History Association in 2014 and 2015.