2009, a group of scholars recognized that basic information about the growing
field of Big History needed to be assembled from around the world. As a result,
they began to develop a directory of Big History courses, instructors and
Directory began at the end of the summer in 2009, in the wake of the Russian
Academy of Sciences' Fifth International Conference on Hierarchy & Power in the History of Civilizations.1 Several professors of Big History participated in this conference, in a series
of panels on "Macroevolution: Hierarchy, Structure, Laws and
Self-Organization." These included Fred Spier, Akop Nazaretyan, Esther
Quaedackers, and Barry Rodrigue. In contrast to the other papers, which tended
to be on research in particular aspects of macro-studies, Fred and Barry's
presentations focused on the pedagogy of Big History. They described the
structure of their courses to their colleagues and, in the process, came to
appreciate the need to get a better handle on the teaching of Big History
around the world.
The first step was to
identify where these courses were being taught, their content and audience, and
who was doing it. So, upon his return to the States, Barry Rodrigue and his
colleague, chemist Dan Stasko, set about gathering this information. The
Directory grew in a very organic manner. Barry and Dan put together a list of
the courses about which they knew and sent it to those instructors. These colleagues
then added to that list. At that point, David Christian suggested a posting on
H-Net, which drew quite a number of new courses and links to other instructors.
In the course of contacting people, more courses and professors were
discovered, and excellent suggestions were made: Add biographical statements, a
basic reading list, websites, etc. It was a very friendly and collegial
This Directory contains
many surprises. First of all, the ballpark figure that many of us had been
using of a dozen Big History courses being taught around the world was far too
conservative. We discovered that Big History is taught at 32 institutions by 28
professors (or teams) in 7 countries.2 The largest numbers of courses are
offered in the United States, in 10 different states.
We also discovered that
the older view of "Big History" was too simplistic a concept. In addition to 27
survey courses about Big History, there are also 9 courses that do not fit
under this category, including sequel courses that are offered to the surveys.
Some of the non-survey courses are World History courses that have been
expanded to include presentations about cosmic origins, while others couch a
more focused topic in a Big History context, such as "The Big History of Grass"
and "Macrosociology." Other courses grew out of public lecture series into
formal offerings for academic credit. The pathways are intriguing for offering
models for outreach.
What all the courses
have in common is a "big" context that is keyed to large-scale and thematic
aspects of the natural and social sciences. The content of courses in Big History tends to vary somewhat from
instructor to instructor. In part, this is a result of the professional
formation of the instructors, who come from many disciplines: Astronomy,
Psychology, History, Anthropology, Geology, Chemistry, Philosophy, Geography,
etc. Astronomers tend to focus on cosmic influences, while anthropologists
focus on human development. Nonetheless, all the instructors strive for an interdisciplinary
and holistic format.3
This Directory is still
a work in progress. While it focuses on the English-speaking world, we are
aware that there has been independent development of Big History in a variety
of global regions, such as Universal History in the Soviet Union. So, there
needs to be a renewed effort to learn about these other academic traditions.
This is an exciting prospect.
The opportunities for
the growth of Big History into the basic historical course in higher education
are good. Big History has been incorporated into the General Education
curriculum required of all students at 3 universities, and 1 of these is also
offered online. Also, 2 of the courses are specifically designed as continuing
education courses for primary or secondary level school teachers.
luck would have it, one of our colleagues, Alex
Moddejonge at California State University at San Marcos, is engaged in writing
a historiography of Big History. We invite you to read his information flyer in
the Addendum of this Directory and to contact him. We will continue to update
this Directory and ask you to contact Barry Rodrigue (firstname.lastname@example.org) with any
information that might help us in this on-going project.
A Working Directory of
Courses & Materials,
2 September 2009
(In order to avoid spam attacks, we've
substituted # for @ in the e-mail addresses)
Assembled by Barry Rodrigue and Daniel Stasko
University of Southern Maine (USA)
Academic Survey Courses on Big History
New South Wales
Instructors: David Christian, Professor,
Department of Modern History, Politics, International Relations & Security
(david.christian#mq.edu.au). Dr. Christian is originally a historian of modern
Russia and the USSR, publishing research on aspects of the social history of
19th century Russia. Since 1989, he has developed and taught courses on Big
History. He is trying to bridge the gap between these very different scales by
completing a history of Inner Eurasia.
Edwell, Lecturer, Department of Ancient History (pedwell#hmn.mq.edu.au). Dr.
Edwell presently convenes "An Introduction to World History" for the Department
of Modern History. He specializes on the study of Romans in the Middle East and
is currently researching the role of smaller polities, such as the Palmyrenes,
in promoting exchanges between the agrarian civilizations of Greece, Rome and
Persia from c 500 B.C.E.–1000 C.E..
HIST 115 "An Introduction to World History." While most history courses look in
detail at a particular country, theme or period, our course surveys history on
the biggest possible scale. It begins with the origins of the universe and goes
on to tell a series of linked stories about the origins of the stars and
planets, the earth and its inhabitants, human beings and various types of human
societies to the present day. Questions range from how and when the universe
created to what practices and ideas give shape to the modern, capitalist world.
Students also ponder the similarities between "big" history and traditional
University of Queensland,
Instructor: Paul Turnbull, Professor,
School of History, Philosophy, Religion & Classics (p.turnbull1#uq.edu.au).
Dr. Turnbull's research interests are focused on the construal of humanity's
deep past by European scientists and intellectuals from the late 18th to the
early 20th century. He is also greatly interested in the use of networked
digital media in historical research and teaching.
Big History is taught at first year undergraduate level under the title of HIST
1601 "Turning Points in World History." It explores significant themes and
issues in world history through a detailed study of selected critical "Turning
Points" that have shaped and defined the history of our modern world. It
commences by exploring select themes in cosmology, the history of the earth,
the emergence of life and the evolution of the human species. The course makes
significant use of David Christian's Maps
of Time and is supplemented by other recent scholarship in the field of Big
The American University
in Cairo, Cairo:
Instructor: David Blanks, Associate
Professor, Department of History (dblanks#aucegypt.edu). Dr. Blanks originally
trained as a medievalist and has written about the medieval Mediterranean world,
with a particular emphasis on western views of Islam. More recently, he has
begun to teach, research and publish on world history, especially the global
histories of exploration, higher education and food.
Course Description: HIST 111 "Big History"
is the study of the past as a whole—not just of human societies. It
includes the study of the earth and the universe and tries to understand how
human beings are connected to their environments and the billions of years of
historical evolution that preceded their appearance on the planet. Beginning
with Big Bang cosmology and continuing all the way through to the future, Big
History is an attempt to put everything into perspective.
Laboratory, Navrangpura, Ahmedabad:
Instructor: Tom Gehrels, Fellow. Dr. Gehrels began as a Sarabhai Professor in India, which evolved
into a lifetime fellowship. He works at the Physical Research Laboratory once a year in the spring semester. (See below,
under Arizona, for more details).
Course Description: This course is a short and specialized version of "Universe,
Humanity, Origins & Future" (described below
under Arizona). It is for graduate students and is sponsored with the Centre
for Space Science and Technology Education in Asia and the Pacific (affiliated
with the United Nations) for selected graduate students from Kazakhstan, North
Korea, Indonesia and locations in between.
University of Amsterdam,
Instructor: Fred Spier¸ Senior
Lecturer, Institute for Interdisciplinary Studies (f.spier#uva.nl). Dr. Spier
has organized the annual Big History course in Amsterdam since 1994. Trained as
a biochemist with research experience in genetic engineering, he subsequently
studied cultural anthropology and received a Ph.D. in cultural anthropology and
social history. During this period, he studied the 10,000 year interplay of religion
and politics in Peru, which led to the publication of two books.
"Big History." For centuries, people have wondered about the origin of the
world around them and have created stories as answers to these questions. The
contemporary scientific version of these narratives is Big History, which
places the history of humanity within the entire known cosmic past, from the
beginning of the Universe up until life on Earth today. By explaining how
everything has become the way it is now, Big History helps students to
understand their position in time and space in a way no other approach to
history can offer. The insights gained in the Big History course may also help
students to prepare themselves better for the future.
Big History, University
of Amsterdam: (http://www.iis-communities.nl/bighistory/).
Instructor: Fred Spier (see
"Big Questions in History" offers an overview of human history placed within
the context of the history of life, the Earth, the Solar System and the
Universe. This approach to human history is known as Big History. Special
attention will be paid to the last 10,000 years of human history, when culture
took over as the main adaptive mechanism. This period witnessed the worldwide
emergence of agriculture as well as the rise of state societies, while
globalization, science, industrialization, urbanization and democratization
have all contributed to deeply transform human societies during the past five
hundred years. We focus on how humans have been transforming their natural environment,
while the last lecture will deal with what we may expect from the future. This
course has been taught at the newly-founded Amsterdam University College since
History, Amsterdam University College:
Eindhoven University of
Instructor: Fred Spier (see
Dr. Spier has taught Big History at the Eindhoven University of Technology
since 2003 (see description above).
Big History, Eindhoven
University of Technology: (http://www.studiumgenerale-eindhoven.nl/bighistory/).
Instructor: Akop Nazaretyan, Professor,
Department of Sociology & Humanities (anazaret#yandex.ru). Dr. Nazaretyan's
research specialty is in the theory of catastrophes and mass psychology. He is
also an academic in the Russian Academy of Sciences, Institute of Oriental Studies,
where he works in the Department of Cross-Cultural Research; a Visiting
Professor at Moscow State University, in the Department of Psychology; and a
member of the Russian Academy of Natural Sciences and the U.S. Society for
"Big History" surveys the concepts and foundations of the discipline. We look
at mega-trends in cosmic, geological, biological and social evolution. The
course questions if the history of humankind has been a single unified process,
in keeping with the evolution of the Universe, and considers the pre-history and
evolution of intelligence. We study techno-humanitarian balances (a systems relationship
between technology, behavior-regulation, and sustainability) as an explanation
of human-generated crises and advances. And, finally, we ponder the crossroads
and dramas of the 21st century, as well as longer term prospects.
Syktyvkar State University,
Instructor: Igor Fedorovich,
Department of Philosophy (fiv#rol.ru). No details provided.
No information provided.
Ewha Woman's University,
Instructor: David Christian,
Visiting Professor, Institute of World & Global History (see above).
Course Description: Summer course # 10946
"New World History, Global History & Big History" presents a new form of
world history that is called Big History. Like all forms of world history, big
history tries to move beyond the nation-centered perspectives that dominate
history teaching in most universities. Instead, it offers a more human-centered
global approach to history. Big History surveys the past at all scales,
beginning with the origins of the Universe and ending in today's global world,
before looking into the future. So, it is like a modern creation story. This is
a form of world history that helps us understand the place of human beings
within our Universe, using the best scientific information available to us
early in the 21st century.
Arkansas Technical University,
Instructor: Alexander Mirkovic, Assistant
Professor, Department of History & Political Science
(amirkovic#suddenlink.net). Dr. Mirkovic teaches courses in Middle Eastern,
European and Modern World History. His current research project is a history of
Serbian nationalism in the 19th and 20th centuries. He is assistant editor of
the forthcoming ABC-CLIO World History
Encyclopedia, Era 8: 1900–1945 and assistant editor of the World History Bulletin.
Course Description: HIST 4514 "Big History"
examines history on a "big" scale, from the Big Bang to Modernity and seeks the
largest possible themes, issues, and patterns. It looks at the history of
various theories of the origins of the cosmos, the natural history of human
race, the nature of human complex societies, and the process of modernization
and industrialization. It studies the changing perceptions of time through
history and their dependence on human and technological development.
University of Arizona,
Instructor: Tom Gehrels, Professor,
Department of Planetary Sciences (tgehrels#lpl.arizona.edu). Dr. Gehrels is an astrophysicist who studies the start of Big History
in the multiverse, where our physics and principles of evolution originated.
He pioneered the first photometric system of asteroid identification, as
well as wavelength dependence of polarization of stars and planets, discovered several
asteroids and comets, and initiated the Spacewatch program to guard Earth from such
NATS-102, Sections 14, 15H, 791 "Universe, Humanity, Origins & Future" is a survey of Big History as seen by an astrophysicist
– with an emphasis on origins, without a detailed discussion of the
history of any one species. On the other hand, a third of the course focuses on
modern problems, such as Earth's asteroid hazard and its mitigation, birth
control (as Vikram Sarabhai approached it), and the search for basic principles
in tackling modern problems. Students also participate in producing the second
edition of the textbook, Survival through
Evolution, from Multiverse to Modern Society (Amazon/BookSurge Publishing,
2007). The course and book are taught in the fall at the undergraduate level. The
core paper on the multiverse is kept up to date and linked to the website: (HREF= ).
University of California,
Instructor: Walter Alvarez, Professor,
Department of Earth & Planetary Science (platetec#berkeley.edu). Dr. Alvarez is the geologist on the Berkeley
research team that discovered the first evidence that impact caused the
extinction of the dinosaurs, and was involved later in the proof that the
Chicxulub Crater in Mexico was the site of that impact.
Course Description: EPS C51 (= LS C70X)
"Big History: Cosmos, Earth, Life, Humanity." Usually,
when we think of "history," we have in mind the story of humanity –
what has happened to people over the last few thousand years – the
history that is written down in books and documents. But there is another, much
broader view – that "history" is everything that has ever happened – not just to human beings, but to all living organisms, to the Earth and
to the entire cosmos. At Berkeley, many different departments are involved in
reconstructing the past: The Astronomy and Physics departments are figuring out
cosmic history, the Department of Earth & Planetary Science studies the
history of the Earth and the Planets, the Department of Integrative Biology and
the Department of Molecular & Cell Biology focus on the history of Life,
and the history of humanity is spread across many different departments in
Humanities and Social Sciences. Up to now, no one has tried to tie all these
kinds of history together. This is the goal of Big History.
EPS 98/198 "Advanced Big History" is taught one hour per week and is open to
students who have taken EPS C51 (= LS C70X) above, being numbered EPS 98 for
lower-division students and EPS 198 for upper-division students. The course covers
topics that integrate at least two of the four regimes of Big History (Cosmos, Earth,
Life, Humanity) – in a seminar/discussion format, based on reading
Dominican University of
California, San Rafael:
Instructor: Cynthia Brown, Professor
Emerita, History Department and Education Department (cbcynthia#earthlink.net). After directing the single-subject
credential program (Grades 7–12) for twenty years, while teaching world
history part-time, Dr. Brown is using her retirement to teach and write Big
HIST 3008 "World History & Geography" is a state-required course for
liberal arts majors who plan to be elementary teachers. It starts with the Big
Bang and runs to the present, concentrating on the material taught in
California for the sixth grade (Paleolithic through Roman Empire). Texts are
Cynthia Brown's Big History and Robert
Strayer's Ways of the World.
HIST 3510 "Whole Earth History" is part of a three-course colloquium (each in a
different department) that undergraduates are required to take, choosing among
several. The other courses matched with this one are "Life on Earth" (Science)
and "The World's Religions" (Philosophy and Theology). Despite its title, "Whole
Earth History," this course begins with the Big Bang and ends with the present,
with an emphasis on environmental issues. Texts are Cynthia Brown's Big History and Frans de Waal's Our Inner Ape.
University of Southern
Instructors: Barry Rodrigue, Associate
Professor, Arts & Humanities, Lewiston-Auburn College (rodrigue#usm.maine.edu).
Dr. Rodrigue is a geographer and archeologist working on the Big History of the
Norumbega Peninsula, between the St. Lawrence River and the Gulf of Maine. His
academic focus is on French and Indigenous interaction in North America. He and
his students are also engaged in global human rights work, notably in Chechnya,
as well as with Indigenous and Métis issues.
Stasko, Assistant Professor, Natural & Applied Sciences, Lewiston-Auburn
College (dstasko#usm.maine.edu). Dr. Stasko provides instructional and course
design assistance for Big History. A synthetic chemist with a specialty in
materials related to energy production and energy storage, his academic focus
has been on increasing the access to and interest of students – from all
backgrounds – to the wonders and importance of the physical sciences.
LCC 350 "Global Past, Global Present: From the Big Bang to Globalization" is a
thematic survey of global history from its origins in the Big Bang to the
present. The result is a more realistic understanding of how humans fit into
the vast expanse of the universe, instead of orienting the universe around
humans. Students also consider the challenges of modern globalization, in the
light of Big History, with an important theme being on the quest to develop
sustainable and ethical lifestyles. The overall focus is on what such knowledge
might mean in our everyday lives and how we should–as responsible
individuals and a responsible species–conduct ourselves on this world and
off of it. It is a core curriculum course, required of all students. This
course is also offered online.
History, University of Southern Maine: (http://usm.maine.edu/lac/global/bighistory/).
Instructors: Eric Chaisson, Andrew
Kurtz, David Walt, Catherine Freudenrich and Lauren Sullivan. Contact: Eric
Chaisson, Wright Center for Science Education, Department of Physics &
Astronomy (eric.chaisson#tufts.edu); see below for
details on Dr. Chaisson.
Chemistry 5 "From the Big Bang to Humankind" explores the origin and fate of
the Universe, the formation of Earth and its structure, the chemistry of life
and its origin, the evolution and development of complex organisms, and the
onset of modern humans. In this empirically based course, students learn the
evidence for the various ideas presented, the scientific method used by
scientists, and how the scientific community evaluates the evidence. This course
is team-taught by an astrophysicist, a glacial geologist, an organic chemist, an
evolutionary biologist and a cultural anthropologist.
Instructor: Eric Chaisson, Harvard
College Observatory (chaisson#fas.harvard.edu). Dr. Chaisson is an
astrophysicist and science educator who has taught, researched and written
about cosmic evolution for some 30 years. He is also noted for his original
research on the interstellar clouds and emission nebulae of the Milky Way
Galaxy, as well as for his leadership in improving science education, both nationally
and internationally. For details, please see (http://www.tufts.edu/as/wright_center/eric/ericpage.html).
Astronomy 8 "Cosmic Evolution: The Origins of Matter and Life" is a study of the
evolution of the Universe, from its origin in a cosmic expansion to the
emergence of life on Earth and possibly other planets: Big-bang cosmology,
origin and evolution of galaxies, stars, planets, life and intelligence, discussions
of Nature writ large, from quarks to quasars, microbes to minds. The materials used
are largely descriptive, based on insights from physics, astronomy, geology,
chemistry, biology and anthropology.
"Cosmic Evolution," Harvard University:
Evolution," Harvard University:
Instructor: Thomas Bania, Professor,
Institute for Astrophysical Research, and the Department of Astronomy
(bania#bu.edu). Dr. Bania studies the interstellar medium of the Milky Way and
other galaxies by using the techniques of radio spectroscopy. He studies
promordial nucleosynthesis during the Big Bang, stellar nucleosynthesis, and
the chemical evolution of the Milky Way galaxy by measurements of the light
isotope of helium, 3-He.
Astronomy 117 "Cosmic Evolution: The Search for Extraterrestrial Life" is an
interdisciplinary course that follows the evolution of matter in the Universe,
the evolution of life on Earth, the ascent of Humankind and the invention of
civilization and technology. It will then discuss the search for other galactic
civilizations, possible techniques for communication with such civilizations,
and the future of Humankind. The goal of Cosmic Evolution is to build a
scientific base from which to view all of creation and the presence of
intelligent life in the cosmos.
Instructor: James Walker,
Professor, Department of Biology (jwalker#bio.umass.edu). Dr. Walker's work has
focused on the phylogeny,
classification and evolutionary phytogeography of flowering plants. He
has used scanning and transmission electron microscopy of the earliest known
fossil angiosperm pollen grains from rocks of the Lower Cretaceous in this
search. Dr. Stephen Schneider,
Professor, Astronomy Department, is the co-instructor.
Biology 190A (GenEd SI) "Cosmos: From the Origin of the Universe to the
Evolution of Life and Intelligence" is a team-taught course with faculty from
Departments of Physics, Astronomy, Geosciences, Microbiology, Biology,
Anthropology, Psychology, Computer Science, Philosophy and History. Topics
include Cosmic Fundamentals – space, time and relativity; the Universe
– cosmology, dark matter and dark energy, origin and evolution of stars,
the elements and the solar system; Life – its nature and origin, the
microbial world, plants and animals; Intelligence – origin and evolution
of biological intelligence, artificial intelligence and robotics. Friday Forums
include topics such as Quantum Weirdness: "Nobody Understands Quantum Physics" –Nobel
Laureate Richard Feynman, and The Grandest Finale: How Will It All End? Begun
as a small (25-student) honors course in 2002, it evolved into a large
(200-student) general education course for all students by 2008.
Salem State College,
Instructor: Hope Benne, Adjunct
Professor, History Department (bennekh#msn.com). Dr.
Benne specializes in Asian history, particularly Southeast Asia, and Peace
History. She is working on a book titled, The
World History of Peacemaking. She has taught Big History for 15 years.
HIS 101 "World History I" is a freshman course and, along with HIS 102 "World
History II," forms a required sequence for all graduates. The goal is to
explore factors that have affected humankind from the Big Bang to now and into
the future. Some of these factors include the evolution of the universe and
solar system, the emergence of life on Earth, and the behavior and lifeways of
primates. Books used are Maps of Time by David Christian, Big History: From the
Big Bang to the Present by Cynthia Brown, The Human Venture by Anthony Esler, Ways of the World by Robert Strayer, and Cosmopolitanism: Ethics in a World of Strangers by Kwame Anthony
Grand Valley State
Instructor: Craig Benjamin, Associate Professor,
Department of History and Meijer Honors College (benjamic#gvsu.edu). Dr.
Benjamin specializes in ancient Central Asian history, world historiography,
world history teacher-training and Big History. His most recent book on ancient
Central Asian nomads is: The Yuezhi: Origin, Migration, and the Conquest of
Northern Bactria (Brepols Silk Roads Studies XIV, 2007). He has taught Big
History in Australia and the United States for 14 years, and is currently
writing a Big History textbook for McGraw-Hill, with Cynthia Brown and David
HST 101 "An Introduction to Big History" looks at the past on the largest possible time
scale: it begins with the latest scientific account of the origins of the
universe, and goes on to describe the origins of stars and planets, of life on
earth, the emergence of human beings, and the various types of human societies
that have existed up to the present day. Ultimately the course encourages us to
consider our place in the global world of the twenty-first century, and to
think of how we might contribute to the future of that world.
University of Michigan,
Instructor: Douglas Northrop, Associate
Professor, Department of History, and the Department of Near Eastern Studies,
(northrop#umich.edu). Dr. Northrop is a specialist on the modern history of
Central Asia, focusing on questions of empire, culture and environment. His
first book investigated the struggle over Muslim women's veils in early Soviet
Uzbekistan, while he is now writing a comparative study of natural disasters
along the Eurasian frontier.
History 239 (cross-listed with Geosciences) "ZOOM: A History of Everything" is
an interdisciplinary course in Big History that integrates the human story with
its terrestrial and cosmic surroundings. The course focuses on two key themes:
1). Scale, by "nesting" each topic and disciplinary perspective within its
predecessor, from cosmic groups of galaxies through the solar system and our
own planet to questions of biology, life and the human experience; 2). Complexity
and connection, showing how the Universe and Earth have their own histories,
which began with the Big Bang, and that these histories have been characterized
by the emergence of more complicated aggregations of atoms, molecules and
elements. Yet, just as stars and galaxies ultimately face collapse or a slow
demise (via entropy), so human society confronts a range of resource challenges
that are difficult to deny or overcome.
University, St. Louis:
Instructors: Ursula Goodenough,
Professor, Department of Biology, (email@example.com); Dr.
Goodenough and her colleagues study the molecular basis and evolution of
life-cycle transitions in the flagellated green alga, Chlamydomonas reinhardtii. Michael Wysession, Associate Professor,
Earth & Planetary Science (firstname.lastname@example.org);
Dr. Wysession's research focuses on seismic wave propagation, whole mantle
seismic attentuation, and evidence for water in the lower mantle.
BIO/EPS/PHYS L41 210A "Epic of Evolution: Life, Earth, and the Cosmos" is a
study of the evolution of the Universe, Earth and life, all woven together in a
narrative. Themes of complexity, scale, entropy and information are applied to
the Big Bang, origins of matter, formation and history of the Earth, origins of
life and diversification of species. We study the implications of the
scientific epic for religion, philosophy, the arts and ethics.
University of Missouri,
Instructor: Kevin Fernlund, Associate
Professor, History Department, and Division of Teaching & Learning
(fernlund#umsl.edu). Dr. Fernlund is the executive director of the Western History
Association and was a Fulbright scholar to Vietnam in 2001–2002. Author
of Lyndon B. Johnson and Modern America (2009) and William Henry Holmes and the
Rediscovery of the American West (2000), he also edited 1998 anthology, The Cold War American West, 1945 to 1989.
He is currently turning his article, "To Think Like a Star: The American West,
Modern Cosmology, and Big History" (see below), into a book-length study.
HIS/SEC ED 4014/6014 "World History for the Secondary Classroom" has two
purposes: 1) Introduce World History as a subject and as a field of study, with
an emphasis on Big History, in which human history, natural history and cosmic
history are integrated into a single, grand narrative; 2) Adapt the themes and
subjects of World History, in particular Big History, to the high school classroom
through readings and class discussion, practice teaching and curriculum
Instructor: Todd Duncan, Adjunct
Research Professor, Center for Science Education (email@example.com).
Dr. Duncan is also director of the Science Integration Institute (a nonprofit
organization helping to connect human experience to a cosmic perspective). He
holds a Ph.D. in astrophysics from the University of Chicago and is author of An Ordinary World: The Role of Science in
Your Search for Personal Meaning and coauthor of Your Cosmic Context: An Introduction to Modern Cosmology.
"Our Cosmic History" began as a public lecture series in 2008-2009, funded by
the Oregon Department of Education. It provides a big-picture context for
science and history in K-12 education. This perspective on who we are, where we
came from, and where we're going is perhaps more important now than ever, as we
make decisions that affect the fate of our species and our planet. But this
broad perspective is difficult to achieve, particularly within today's formal
education system. This lecture series is designed to complement and support
existing formal education by combining a unified scientific account of how
things came to be as they are, with guidance on how to incorporate these
insights into classroom units. Now entering its second year, the series is
being transformed into a course for Spring 2010 that will be available both as
a free public lecture series and for continuing education graduate credit.
Cosmic History," Portland State University:
Instructor: John Mears, Associate
Professor, History Department (jmears#smu.edu). Dr. Mears began his career studying
the emergence of standing professional armies in early modern Europe, as well
as comparative revolutionary movements. His growing awareness of how global
forces transformed the context of human existence in the 20th century
motivated him to make World History a primary area of concern. His view of
larger contexts continued to expand, which led him to Big History. He served as
President of the World History Association (1994–1996).
HIST 1301 & 1302 "World Cultures & Civilizations" is a year-long
introductory course for undergraduates. The larger cosmic and evolutionary parts
of Big History are directly used in the first half of the first semester, in
order to create the largest conceivable context within which to place the human
historical experience. The course is then structured around three great
transformations of human history: the Upper Paleolithic takeoff, the origins of
agriculture and urban life, and the global integration of human societies in
with a Focus on Aspects of Big History, Expanded World History Courses, Public
Seminars, Projects, Etc.
Australian National University, Canberra:
Researcher: Graeme Snooks, Coghlan
Research Professor of Economic History, and Director, Global Dynamic Systems
Centre, Research School of Economics, Institute of Advanced Studies (graeme.snooks#anu.edu.au).
Dr. Snooks began his academic career as an economist and economic historian,
but now focuses on the construction of social and biological theory using the
historical method (induction).
Homepage for Graeme
Project: For the past 20 years
Graeme Snooks has been developing a general dynamic theory (dynamic-strategy
theory) to explain the emergence, development and future of life in general and
humanity in particular. In short, it is a theory of Big History. It has also provided a new approach
– a demand-side approach – to the theory of complex
systems. This large-scale project has resulted in a dozen books and many
articles in journals, such as Advances in Space Research, Complexity, Social Evolution & History, and Globalization Studies. Currently,
this work is being conducted in the Global Dynamic Systems Centre at the
Australian National University.
Global Dynamic Systems
Simon Fraser University,
Instructor: Luke Clossey, Assistant
Professor, Department of History (clossey#sfu.ca). Dr. Clossey works on
early-modern world history, with a focus on religion.
HIST 130 "Modern World History: Little Big History" is a survey of world
history from the beginning to the end, with an emphasis on the period from ca.
1405 C.E. to the present. It is book-ended with initial and final lectures that
seek to cover all of time, but from a Buddhist cosmological perspective, with links
to modern science and other creation/destruction "myths."
Instructor: Jonathan Markley, Assistant
Professor, History Department (jmarkley#fullerton.edu). Dr. Markley's focus is
on ancient history, specializing in Roman and Chinese studies. His work deals
with both civilizations' relations with "barbarians" and on the historiography
in both parts of the world. He teaches courses on both ancient Rome and China,
in addition to world history. His book, Peace
and Peril, Sima Qian's Portrayal of Han-Xiongnu Relations, will appear in
the Silk Road Studies series, published by Brepols next year. He is currently
working on a "Big History of Grass," a project that covers the period from the
first evolution of grass to the present day.
Course Description: History 110A "World
Civilizations to the 16th Century" is a general education course, and has a
large number of sections. A large measure of freedom is given to instructors on
how to pursue standardized learning goals, so only the sections taught by Dr.
Markley can properly be characterized as "Big History." The course begins with
the Big Bang and progresses to the advent of the human race. More attention has
to be paid to different human civilizations than in many Big History courses,
but emphasis is placed on bigger factors, such as the impact of the evolution
of grass, volcanism, plate tectonics, ways in which human societies can be
characterized as symbiotic or parasitic.
Course Description: Dr Markley is in the
process of developing "The Big History of Grass," which will trace the story of
grass from its evolution c 90 mya, through the evolution of specialist grass
consumers, to its domestication of humanity (not the other way around), to the
emergence of the pastoralist/agriculturalist divide, to its growing importance
both now and into the future.
University, San Marcos:
Researcher: Alex Moddejonge,
Graduate Researcher, (modde001#cougars.csusm.edu). Mr. Moddejonge is currently
writing a Master's thesis on the intellectual and pedagogical development of
Big History as a field.
Project Description: This
project is to create a history of Big History – a narrative and annotated
historiography called, The Biggest
Story Every Told: The Development of Big History, 1989-2009. First,
I will determine a working definition of what Big History is; then a chronology
of big history's evolution since 1989 will be drawn through sketches of the
academics teaching such courses and the kinds of diversity existing within the
field. Connections to the intellectual antecedents of big history – world
history, environmental history, macro-history, universal history, and cosmology
– will then be established. The view of historians outside the field, of
general reviewers, and of readers will be considered to provide context.
Finally I will offer my own critiques of Big History, draw links to certain
intellectual trends in the past two decades (notably environmentalism,
cosmopolitanism and secularism), and speculate further on its future as a
field. (Attached at the end of this Directory is a research request form).
Menlo College, Atherton:
Instructor: Jeremy Neill, Assistant
Professor, History Department (jneill#menlo.edu). Dr. Neill specializes in
gender, imperialism and historiography.
HIS 189 "Human Society & the Natural World" is a broad survey of the
relationship between humanity and natural forces, what historians today refer
to as Big History. We examine relationships between resources; climate change;
interaction with other species; migration; and the development of human
societies – how people changed their environment and how environments
changed people. An emphasis is placed on relationships between differing
environments and the means by which human societies have coped with them. Most
importantly, students are asked to think in long-term and large scales. The
course is broken up into three units: 1). The development of complex societies,
2). The downfall of complex societies, 3). The germs and seeds of industry. The
Big History Course is taught as part of the Ethical and Environmental awareness
theme within the business management degree program.
Instructor: Thomas Burr, Assistant
Professor, Department of Sociology & Anthropology (tburr#ilstu.edu). Dr.
Burr researches the institutional foundations of consumer markets, long-term
globalization and the evolution of human societies.
SOC 220 "Global Social Change: An Introduction to Macrosociology" focuses on
human social evolution. Drawing on archaeology and ethnology, social psychology
and macrosociology, world history, international relations and macroeconomics,
this class focuses on the expansion and increasing complexity of societies of
one species, Homo sapiens sapiens,
over the last ten millennia. It starts with the simplest human societies,
foraging bands, and analyzes changes such as the Neolithic Revolution, the rise
of the state, and the global expansion of Europe in the modern era. These
changes have led to horticultural and pastoral tribes and chiefdoms;
horticultural, pastoral, and agrarian states; industrial capitalist states; the
development of the current global social system; and post-colonial,
School of Theology at Chicago, Chicago:
Instructors: A diverse panel of
scholars and professors teach this course. They come from the University of
Chicago, Northwestern University and other institutions. Big Historian Ursula
Goodenough of Washington University in St. Louis (see above) has taught there.
Course Description: LSTC T-456 "The Epic
of Creation: Scientific, Biblical, and Theological Perspectives on Our Origins"
is offered as a public lecture series and as a graduate level seminar. It has
been offered since 1989 and is unique in the United States. It is sponsored by
the Zygon Center for Religion and Science.
Epic of Creation: (http://www.zygoncenter.org/epic.html).
University of Southern
Instructor: Barry Rodrigue, with
Daniel Stasko (see above).
Description: HUM 498 "Global
Future: Reflection & Action" serves as a sequel to the survey course on Big
History, LCC 350 Global Past, Global
Present. Although it also provides a survey of Big History, through the use
of Fred Spier's Big History and the
Future of Humanity, it is more of a course on applied Big History – on
the challenges of modern society and the quest to bring about a sustainable future.
In other words, it is a primer on how we can become good global citizens once informed
by the paradigm of Big History.
Instructor: Daniel Lord Smail,
Professor, Department of History, (smail#fas.harvard.edu). Dr. Smail's research
concentrates on medieval subjects ranging from law, violence, and space to politics,
conquest and colonization. He also addresses deep history or early global
history. His book, On Deep History and the Brain (2008), tackled issues
associated with deep history. A long-term project is to write a deep history
and, to this end, he works with a group of historians, anthropologists,
archaeologists and other paleohistorians to define some of the domains around
which deep historical narratives can coalesce.
History 70c "Topics in Natural History" is an undergraduate reading seminar
aimed at students majoring in history. The course focuses on series of domains
in which it is possible to envision a deep human history. Major themes, covered
on a week-by-week basis, include: expansion and diaspora; biology and culture;
sex and reproduction; language and gossip; material culture; food and diet;
politics and status; environment and ecosystems; brain and behavior; and
demography. An additional goal of the course is to explore the philosophy and
methodology underlying a deep history of humanity.
Instructor: John Mears (see above).
I contribute a series of seminars to a supporting field my department calls
global and comparative history. Its purpose is to place the American experience
into larger historical contexts and provide broad interdisciplinary
perspectives on particular topics of global significance. My three seminars are
entitled Global and Comparative History: Methods, Concepts, and Theories (HIST
6315), Confrontations and Connections: World-Historical Borderlands in
Comparative Perspective (HIST 6316), and Modern Revolutions in Comparative
Perspective (HIST 6347). My approach in all three of these seminars, but
especially the first one, is influenced directly or indirectly by the
assumptions and purposes of Big History.
Books & Articles on Big History
Historical Record in the Scaglia Limestone at Gubbio: Magnetic Reversals and
the Cretaceous-Tertiary Mass Extinction," Sedimentology 56, 2009, pp. 137–148.
P. Claeys, and A. Montanari, "Time-Scale Construction and Periodizing in Big
History: From the Eocene-Oligocene Boundary to All of the Past: Geological
Society of America, Special Paper, v. 452, 2009, pp. 1–15.
Robert Aunger, "Major Transitions in "Big' History," and "A
Rigorous Periodization of 'Big' history," in Technological Forecasting and Social Change 74 (8), 2007, pp. 1137–1178).
Convergence of Logic, Faith and Values in the Modern Creation Myth," in C.
Genet, B. Swimme, R. Genet, and L. Palmer (editors), Evolutionary Epic: Science's Story and Humanity's Response (Los
Angeles: Collins Foundation Press, 2009).
and Endings" (Chapter 5) in M. Hughes-Warrington (editor), Palgrave Advances: World History (London and New York: Palgrave/Macmillan,
2004), pp. 90–111.
Big History: From the
Big Bang to the Present, New York: New Press, 2007.
Aren't More People Teaching Big History?" in C. Genet, B. Swimme, R. Genet and
L. Palmer (editors), Evolutionary Epic:
Science's Story and Humanity's Response, (Los Angeles: Collins Foundation
Cosmic Evolution: The Rise of Complexity in Nature, Cambridge: Harvard University
"Cosmic Origins: A
Logarithmic rendering of Look-Back Time," Wright Center for Science Education,
Tufts University, 2001; running time—12 minutes
Epic of Evolution: Seven Ages of the Cosmos, New York: Columbia
University Press, 2006.
—with Dana Berry,
"Arrow of Time: A Linear Rendering of Forward Time," Wright Center for Science
Education, Tufts University, 2007:
"The Case for 'Big History,'" The Journal of World History 2 (2), Autumn 1991, pp. 223-238 (www.fss.uu.nl/96-97/big.htm).
'Maps of Time:' An Introduction to 'Big History,' Berkeley:
University of California Press, 2004. Winner of the 2005 World History
Association award for best book in World History; translations into Spanish
("Mapas del tiempo: introducción—n a la "Gran Historia," trans. Antonio-Prometeo
Moya, Barcelona, Crítica, 2005); and into Chinese (2007).
This Fleeting World: A Short History of Humanity, Great
Barrington, Massachusetts: Berkshire Publishing, 2008. Originally published as
part of Berkshire Encyclopedia of World History, W.H. McNeill and others
(editors). Also published in Korean.
Big History: The Big Bang, Life on Earth, and the Rise of Humanity, February
2008 (48 half hour lectures for The Teaching Company).
"Big History: The longest durée," in Österreichische
Zeitschrift für Geschichtswissenschaften, 20. Jg., Band 2, 2009, special
issue on Global History, Peer Vries (editor), pp. 91–106.
–with Cynthia Brown and Craig Benjamin, Between Nothing and Everything: Big History, Boston: McGraw-Hill,
Steven Dick and Mark
Lupisella (editors), Cosmos &
Culture: Cultural Evolution in a Cosmic Context, NASA SP-4802, 2009.
Duncan and Craig Tyler, Your Cosmic Context:
An Introduction to Modern Cosmology, San Francisco: Pearson Addison Wesley,
Kevin Fernlund, "To
Think Like a Star: The American West, Modern Cosmology, and Big History" in Montana: The Magazine of Western History 59, Summer 2009, 23–44.
An Organizing Principle for General Education," in The Journal of General Education 37 (4), 1986, pp. 113–125.
Continuities: Integrating World History into Longer Analytical Frameworks," in Historically Speaking 6 (5), May-June
2005, pp. 31–34.
"Implications of the
Evolutionary Epic for the Study of Human History," pp. 135–144, in Cheryl
Genet and others (editors), The
Evolutionary Epic: Sciences Story and Humanity's Response, Santa Margarita,
California: Collins Foundation Press, 2009.
– To Be Human: Perspectives on Our
Common History. The first six chapters deal directly with Big History.
"Western and Russian Traditions of Big History: A Philosophical Insight," Journal for General Philosophy of Science (2005)
The Dynamic Society:
Exploring the Sources of Global Change, London & New York: Routledge, 1996.
"Big History or Big
Theory? Uncovering the Laws of Life." Social Evolution & History 4
(1), 2005, pp. 160–188.
Exploring the Horizons
of Big History (Guest
editor of a special issue of Social Evolution & History 4 (1), Moscow:
Uchitel Publishing House, 2005.
"The Origin of Life on
Earth: A New General Dynamic Theory," Advances in Space Research 36,
2005, pp. 226–234.
"A General Theory of
Complex Living Systems: Exploring the Demand Side of Dynamics," Complexity 13
(6), 2008, pp. 12–20.
(forthcoming) — Ark
of the Sun: The Improbable Voyage of Life, 2010.
The Structure of Big
History: From the Big Bang until Today, Amsterdam: Amsterdam University
Big History: Was
die Geschichte im Innersten zusammenhält, Darmstadt: Primus
het Groot: Een alomvattende visie, Amsterdam: Amsterdam University Press, 1999.
Ghost of Big History is Roaming the Earth," History & Theory 44, May
2005, pp. 253–264.
Small History of the Big History Course at the University of Amsterdam," World
History Connected 2 (2), May 2005.
Big History Works: Energy Flows and Rise and Demise of Complexity." Social
Evolution & History 4 (1), March 2005, pp. 87-135, Moscow: Uchitel
Publishing House (downloadable from: http://home.medewerker.uva.nl/f.spier/).
Big History?" in Philosophy, Science & Humanities, Moscow: Russian
Ministry of Education 8, 2006, pp. 104–106.
Big History and the
Future of Humanity,
Oxford: Wiley-Blackwell, 2010.
Resources on Big History
Twitter Site on Big
History, Fred Spier (University of Amsterdam), site manager: (http://twitter.com/bighistory).
site on Big History, John Kimball and Kessi Watters Kimball (University of
Southern Maine), site managers: (www.facebook.com/pages/Big-History/99185533648?sid=40f694f1b5d227bf7337df0b885fd88c&ref).
A web-based, pre-collegiate model curriculum,
Ross Dunn, Project director, San Diego State University: World History for Us All (http://worldhistoryforusall.sdsu.edu/).
Rodrigue and Daniel Stasko both teach at
Lewiston-Auburn College, University of Southern Maine. They have increasingly
collaborated in the classroom on Big History over the last three years. They
can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org and email@example.com.
The Biggest Story Every Told: The Development of Big History,
to Participate and Purpose of Research
Alexander Moddejonge, a
graduate student at California State University San Marcos, is conducting a
study on the development of Big History. You are invited to participate in this
study because you teach or have taught a course related to Big History or have
written on the subject.
If you agree to participate in this study, you will
be asked to answer the following questions:
What is your academic background and how has it led you to big history?
How did you construct your course in big history? This includes the
administrative, pedagogical, and intellectual details involved in such an
Explain who the target audiences of these courses and/or writings are?
How is your version of big history similar to or different from other versions?
Further questions may be asked based upon your
answers to those above or based on other sources of information (such as your
writings on the subject).
There are potential risks involved in your
attribution of certain information relating to reaction of fellow faculty members
and administration to your Big History course or opinions on other Big History
courses. The time taken to answer these questions may pose a potential
inconvenience. Potential benefits include the dissemination of your views on
Big History and the specific of how you teach such a course. This could have an
influence both on the development of Big History as a field and on its
Confidentiality, and Voluntary Participation
Participation in this study is purely voluntary. If
you do not wish to be involved or wish to withdraw you may do so at anytime.
Any information you have divulged will be excluded from the final project. If
you do wish to participate interview will be conducted via email. This will
minimize any inconveniences by allowing you to answer questions at your
leisure. I will forward a draft for verification of accuracy prior to publication.
This study has been approved by the California
State University San Marcos Institutional Review Board (IRB). If you have
questions about the study, you may direct those to me at:
Alex Moddejonge at 760-473-1023,
or Peter Arnade, Professor of History, CSUSM, (firstname.lastname@example.org).
Questions about your rights as a research
participant should be directed to the IRB at (760) 750-4029.