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World history parachutists

What a treat, to be in southern California, looking out at palm trees and sunshine and reading email about all the snow back home. Last week was hectic for everyone in the office, so I suspect they’ll all enjoy having a little calm and quiet this week, with preparations made for ALA—which starts Friday night–and time to focus on new projects. I had a perfect start to this week’s travel: a yoga class in La Mesa at the studio where Ross Dunn, one of our world history colleagues, goes. After class, Ross and our dear friend David Christian, author of Maps of Time, who coedited the Berkshire Encyclopedia of World History and wrote our forthcoming teacher’s guide The Fleeting World, took us to brunch at a restaurant overlooking the harbor. We spent three hours talking about everything from bodily fluids to world cultures; I love the chance to be with wide-ranging scholars, and it’s fun to get world historians together to an anthropologist, Berkshire’s David Levinson, who has always specialized in the whole wide world.

David Christian said how much he liked the kind of intellectual ambition that inspires people like Bill McNeill, and we all laughed when David Levinson told them the title of his dissertation, Towards Explaining Human Culture. A good kind of arrogance, we agreed. David said he’d wanted to call it simply Explaining Human Culture! (It’s still in print, after 25 years.)

The scholars we work most closely with like to take on the grand questions of the social sciences. Ross calls them “parachutists,” not “trufflehunters.” Tom (20) joined into the conversation happily and amused us by describing how one of his professors had recoiled when he said he was interested in the bigger picture. Rachel (just turned 17) was quiet but afterwards said that she’d had a great time listening.

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