Sunday sees the start of a major new BBC documentary series, Andrew Marr’s ‘History of the World’. Over eight episodes on Sunday evenings he will be attempting to chart the history of humanity from their origins to the current day – no mean feat! I caught an interview with him by Richard Bacon on the radio this week talking about the decision process involved. They were exploring at length the decisions involved in what would be squeezed into the eight hours and what would be excluded. He explained that there were two main guidelines that he utilized:
- It was to be truly global in its scope – so many histories of the world are really European histories rather than global. His aim is to show that there is so much more to history than our part of it, as significant as it may be to us. For example, he said, what do most of us know about the great historical African empires that were more advanced than most Western cultures of their day? Henry VIII might be famous here, but had little worldwide impact.
- It was to be inclusive – just as most histories we are exposed to are Euro-centric, they are also male dominated, and so he wanted to make sure some of the significant females we usually overlook were included too.
Consequently his History of the World promises to be a diverse and surprising story. I’m looking forward to it.
But having discussed the variety and range of topics he hoped to cover, they started discussing the first episode. Whilst people might debate what to pick for the other episodes, he claimed all agreed where to start, our common descent from a single African tribe, or even single African woman. That the rich diversity of human life and history should come from what turns out to be one single family clearly struck him as extraordinary, ‘I find that astonishing; that the accountant from Helsinki and the drain cleaner from Tokyo share the same ancestor’.
As a scientist I marvel at this, it is astonishing what variety has evolved from a small set of chromosomes. I marvel too as a Christian at the richness of God’s Creation of which we are only one part. Of course, the Bible, from Adam and Eve to the new Garden in Revelation, tells of our unity and God’s mission to restore this after the Fall and Babel have brought estrangement.
His interview left me with a question to ponder: what difference does it make to me now that under our variation in colour, creed and culture we are all one family?
Church newsletter article, 23.09.12