The idea of a modern origin story is in the air. For me, it began with a course on the history of everything that I first taught at
Macquarie University in Sydney in 1989. I saw that course as a way of getting at the history of humanity. At the time, I taught and
researched Russian and Soviet history. But I worried that teaching a national or imperial history (Russia was both nation and empire)
conveyed the subliminal message that humans are divided, at the most fundamental level, into competing tribes. Was that a helpful
message to teach in a world with nuclear weapons? As a schoolboy during the Cuban missile crisis, I vividly remember thinking we
were on the verge of an apocalypse. Everything was about to be destroyed. And I remember wondering if there were kids “over
there” in the Soviet Union who were equally scared. After all, they, too, were humans. As a child, I had lived in Nigeria. That gave me a strong sense of a single, extraordinarily diverse human community, a feeling that was confirmed when, as a teenager, I
went to Atlantic College, an international school in South Wales.
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