• 648 Citations
  • 7 h-Index
1976 …2020

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Personal profile


David Christian (D.Phil. Oxford, 1974) is a Distinguished Professor in the Department of Modern History.  He is by training a historian of Russia and the Soviet Union, but since the 1980s he has become interested in world history and in history at very large scales and across many disciplines.  He began teaching Russian and European history at Macquarie University in 1975; from 1989 he also began teaching courses in Big History. 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, where he has mainly taught Big History, but is now teaching Russian, Soviet and post-Soviet history.  Since 1990, he has given over 300 seminars, lectures and talks outside Macquarie University.

He is a member of the Australian Academy of the Humanities, the Royal Holland Society of Sciences and Humanities, and the Royal Society of N.S.W.  He is on the editorial boards of the Journal of Global History and the Cambridge World History. He has held temporary appointments at the University of Vermont and at Ewha Womans University in Seoul, and was the founding President of the International Big History Association (http://www.ibhanet.org/). 

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 the first volume of a synoptic history of Inner Eurasia (Russia, Central Asia and Mongolia). In 2004, he published the first monograph on 'Big History', Maps of Time. With Bill Gates, he is co-founder of the 'Big History Project' (https://school.bighistoryproject.com/bhplive), which has built free on-line high-school courses in big history. 

David Christian's 2011 TED talk, "A History of the World in 18 minutes", which launched the Big History Project, has been seen by more than 8 million viewers (https://www.ted.com/talks/david_christian_big_history). 

Since 2013, he has been Director of Macquarie University's Big History Institute (https://www.mq.edu.au/bighistory), and led the collaboration of twenty academics across all faculties to develop Macquarie University's MOOC on big history: "Big History: Connecting Knowledge", on the Coursera platform.  He is co-creator of Macquarie University’s Big History School, which provides K-12 online courses in Big History.  In 2014, he was winner of the Macquarie University Excellence in Research Award for Humanities and Social Sciences for “The Big History Project: Education for the Anthropocene”.  In May 2017 he was awarded an Honorary Doctorate of Humane Letters by North Carolina State University.

Postgraduate students and their projects

Dr David Baker: "Big History: The Role of Universal Darwinism, Collective Learning, & the Rise of Complexity", PhD dissertation completed 2014.  David got his BA and MA at the University of Calgary, Canada.  David has worked on the Macquarie University Big History MOOC, and contributed to the work of the Big History Institute and the design of Big History School.

Rich Blundell: "Waking Up in the Anthropocene: Big History and the Biosphere", dissertation submitted January 2016.  Rich has undergraduate degrees in the natural sciences 
(BSc. geology & biology) and a master¹s degree in education (EdM. Science & the Public).

Elise Bohan: is in the third year of a dissertation currently entitled: "The History and Evolution of Transhumanist Thought and its Significance in the Twenty-first Century:
A Big History Perspective".  Her BA from Macquarie was in English.

Selected Publications

Publications include:

  1. A History of Russia, Central Asia and Mongolia: Vol. 2, Inner Eurasia from the Mongol Empire to Today, Blackwell History of the World, Wiley/Blackwell, Feb 2018
  2. "What is Big History?” Journal of Big History, Vol. 1, No. 1 (2017), 4-19, available at https://journalofbighistory.org/index.php/jbh
  3. Cambridge World History, Vol. 1, ed. David Christian, Cambridge: CUP, 2015
  4. David Christian, Cynthia Brown and Craig Benjamin, Big History: Between Nothing and Everything, 2013 [a university textbook on big history]
  5. "The Return of Universal History", History and Theory, Theme Issue, 49 (December 2010)
  6. This Fleeting World, Berkshire Publishing: Great Barrington, Mass.: 2007 [A history of humanity in under 100 pages]
  7. Big History a set of 48 lectures for the Teaching Company's "Great Courses", 2008
  8. Maps of Time: An Introduction to Big History. Foreword by W.H. McNeill, Berkeley: University of California Press, 2004 [The first modern attempt by a historian to offer a coherent history of the entire past, beginning with the origins of the Universe; an attempt to explore how human history is embedded in the histories of the biosphere and the Universe; Maps of Time won the 2005 WHA History Prize for the best book in world history published in 2004]
  9. A History of Russia, Central Asia and Mongolia: Vol 1: Inner Eurasia from Prehistory to the Mongol Empire, in The Blackwell History of the World. Oxford: Blackwell, 1998 [The first synoptic study of "Inner Eurasia" from prehistory up to the 13th century; the first of 2 volumes]
  10. Imperial and Soviet Russia: Power, Privilege and the Challenge of Modernity.  Basingstoke and New York: Macmillan/St. Martin's, 1997 [A textbook survey of Russian and Soviet history]
  11. Living Water: Vodka and Russian Society on the Eve of Emancipation, OUP, 1990
  12. With R.E.F. Smith, Bread & Salt: A Social and Economic History of Food and Drink in Russia Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1984 [became a standard history of food and drink pre-modern Russia; my contribution was 3 out of 9 chapters]

Forthcoming Publications include:

  1. Origin Story: A Big History of Everything, Little/Brown in the US, Penguin in the UK and Australia, and several non-English publishers, 2018 [a popular account of the big history story] May 2018
  2. “The Anthropocene Epoch,” Ch. 11 of Felipe Fernandez-Armesto, ed., Oxford Illustrated History of the World, 2018


Main teaching areas:

  • Russian and Soviet History (main teaching area until 1990s)
  • Big History (taught from 1989 to the present)

Other teaching areas include:

  • European History,
  • US history,
  • Russian History and Literature,
  • World Environmental History,
  • the History of Inner Eurasia,
  • Historiography,
  • in 2018 he returned to his first area of expertise, teaching a new course on Russian, Soviet and post-Soviet history


Education/Academic qualification

Russian History, D.Phil., University of Oxford

Russian HIstory, M.A., University of Western Ontario

Modern HIstory, B.A., University of Oxford

External positions

Visiting Professor, World Class University's Program, Ewha Womans University


James Marsh Visiting Professor, University of Vermont


Professor, San Diego State University


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Research Outputs

What is big history?

Christian, D., 2020, The Routledge companion to big history. Benjamin, C., Quaedackers, E. & Baker, D. (eds.). London ; New York: Routledge, Taylor and Francis Group, p. 16-34 19 p.

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter

  • A big history of globalization: the emergence of a global world system

    Zinkina, J., Christian, D., Grinin, L., Ilyin, I., Andreev, A., Aleshkovski, I., Shulgin, S. & Korotayev, A., 2019, Cham, Switzerland: Springer, Springer Nature. 284 p. (World-Systems Evolution and Global Futures)

    Research output: Book/ReportBook

  • A science-based origin story for a planet-changing species: "Big History" can help humans understand our growing powers and responsibilities

    Christian, D., 22 Oct 2019, Scientific American blogs.

    Research output: Contribution to Newspaper/Magazine/WebsiteWebsite contribution

    Open Access
  • Chernobyl: re-creating a nuclear tragedy

    Christian, D., 2019, In : History Australia. 16, 4, p. 763-765 3 p.

    Research output: Contribution to journalBook/Film/Article/Exhibition review

  • The Anthropocene Epoch: the background to two transformative centuries

    Christian, D., 2019, The Oxford illustrated history of the world. Fernández-Armesto, F. (ed.). Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press, p. 339-373 35 p.

    Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter

  • Activities

    Big History School

    David Christian (Participant)

    Activity: Other

    "The Whole Damn Thing: Teaching about our Place in the Universe through Big HIstory"

    David Christian (Speaker)
    18 Nov 2017

    Activity: Talk or presentationInvited talk

    "Is it a good idea to try to teach the history of everything?"

    David Christian (Speaker)
    16 Nov 2017

    Activity: Talk or presentationInvited talk

    Award of Honorary Doctorate

    David Christian (Participant)
    May 2017

    Activity: Other

    Keynote Lecture "Australian HIstory in Deep Time"

    David Christian (Speaker)
    28 Sep 2016

    Activity: Talk or presentationInvited talk

    Press / Media

    The Legacy of the Russian Revolution, lecture broadcast on the ABC

    David Christian


    1 Media contribution

    Press/Media: Expert Comment

    Panel Discussion on Legacy of Russian Revolution, in Russia

    David Christian & Fekla Tolstaya


    1 Media contribution

    Press/Media: Other

    "In Conversation with David Christian"

    David Christian & David Myton


    1 Media contribution

    Press/Media: Other