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National Library 12-13 October

Revolution, Activism and Social Change

Social Change can occur in many ways, ranging from revolutionary events that lead to fundamental rearrangement of societal institutions and practices, to incremental changes in everyday life. Revolutionary change can follow violent upheaval, for example, the French Revolution, but it can also begin in relative peace and take decades to unfold. Conference papers will examine why and how revolution occurs and its effects, both short and long term.


David Christian, Director of Big History Institute and Distinguished Professor in History, Department of Modern History, Macquarie University, Sydney

will present the ISAA Annual Lecture on 

Thursday 12 October  5.30 – 6.30 pm at the National Library of Australia

on the theme of: ‘The Russian Revolution in World History’

Abstract: 'The Legacy of the Russian Revolution': The project of building a better world has always been with us, and still is today.  The Russian Revolution represents one of the most determined attempts ever to build a better and more equal world, in which most members of society could flourish.  It clearly failed, and analysing the reasons for its failures is immensely important if we are to face the same question squarely a century later.  Once again, issues of inequality loom large.  But today, we have to deal with the new understanding that our biosphere sets limits to the amount of energy and resources we humans can consume.  So, one of the most important legacies of the Russian Revolution is a question: can we build a better world, in which most people live flourishing lives, and can we do so without undermining the ecological foundations for such a world?

CV: David Christian (D.Phil. Oxford, 1974) is by training a historian of Russia and the Soviet Union, but since the 1980s he has become interested in World History on very large scales, or ‘Big History’. He taught at Macquarie University in Sydney from 1975 to 2000 before taking a position at San Diego State University in 2001. In January 2009 he returned to Macquarie University.  From 2009 to 2013 he was a ‘World Class Universities Distinguished Professor’ at Ewha Womans University in Seoul; and over the same period, he has also held a position as a James Marsh Professor-at-Large at the University of Vermont.  He was founding President of the International Big History Association, and is co-founder with Bill Gates, of the Big History Project, which has built a free on-line high school syllabus in big history.  He is the Director of Macquarie University’s Big History Institute, and designer and lead teacher on Macquarie University’s MOOC in Big History.

David Christian has written on the social and material history of the 19th century Russian peasantry. He has also written a textbook history of modern Russia, and a synoptic history of Inner Eurasia (Russia, Central Asia and Mongolia) up to the time of the Mongol Empire; the second volume of that history will be published in 2017. In 1989, he began teaching courses on 'Big History', surveying the past on the largest possible scales, including those of biology and astronomy; and in 2004, he published the first book-length study of Big History, Maps of Time, which won the World History Association prize for the best book on world history published in 2004He has also published a short history of humanity and, with Cynthia Brown and Craig Benjamin, has completed the first college-level textbook on big history.  In 2017, he will publish an account of big history as a modern origin story for a general readership.  At San Diego State University, he taught courses on World History, ‘Big History’, World Environmental History, Russian History, and the History of Inner Eurasia. He is a member of the Australian Academy of the Humanities and the Koninklijke Hollandsche Maatschappij der Wetenschappen [Royal Holland Society of Sciences and Humanities], and on the editorial boards of the Journal of Global History and the Cambridge History of the World. David Christian has given numerous talks and lectures on aspects of Russian, Inner Eurasian and world and big history, and in March 2011, he gave a talk on ‘13.7 billion years of history in 18 minutes’at the TED conference in Long Beach.