Big History Institute
What is Big History?
Big History is the attempt to understand, in a unified and interdisciplinary way, the history of the Cosmos, Earth, Life and Humanity. Big History is ambitious - it seeks understanding by bringing together and linking the knowledge available in many different scholarly disciplines.
Alexander von Humboldt sought a synthesis of nature and history more than 150 years ago, but was restricted by the limitations of scientific knowledge in his time. H.G. Wells attempted a Universal History in his 'Outline of History'. Today, progress within many different research fields means that it is at last possible to create a rigorous account of the past at multiple scales. Big History surveys the past at all possible time scales, from those of cosmology to those of human history. In its search for understanding Big History explores fields such as astronomy, physics, geology, biology, climatology and archeology.
Big History offers us the possibility to understand our universe, our world, and our humanity in a new way. Big History is a field of vast scope, innovative research, and compelling promise, and may well provide key knowledge to unlock some of the critical challenges of our future.
Van Gogh's Starry Night Over the Rhone...
Van Gogh's' Starry Night Over the Rhone was painted in Arles, in September 1888. It can be seen at the Musee d'Orsay, in Paris. It offers a wonderful icon for big history. The two humans are dwarfed by the immensity of the world and the cosmos, but they also wonder about it. And we, the observers, wonder about them and their place in a vast cosmos. We also see, around them, some of the paraphernalia of civilisation and also water, the key component for any living planet. It captures well a sense of our need to understand our place in a larger universe.
This sense is experienced by astronauts in the 'overview effect' - as they see planet earth from space. For many it has been a transformative experience resulting in a fundamental change in their perspective to understand our planet and the place of humanity's place upon it. View this beautiful short film to share the thoughts of Apollo astronauts about their experience of travelling into space - and their resulting cognitive shift in understanding their home planet earth.
The image of this astronaut looking at earth is this is a screenshot from the short documentary 'Overview' from Planetary Collective.
Big History in 18 minutes
When Professor David Christian gave a talk at TED 2011, it generated enormous interest.
See why Bill Gates makes a big commitment to Big History.
Read the article 'Crafting a New Narrative to Support Sustainability' by Dwight E. Collins, Russell M. Genet and David Christian in the recently published Is Sustainability Still Possible? (Worldwatch Institute)
David Christian talks at the Global Futures - 2045 Conference.
World Economic Forum
Professor David Christian attended the World Economic Forum Annual Meeting 2012 in Davos-Klosters, Switzerland 25-29 January. With the theme "The Great Transformation: Shaping New Models" the forum explored how world leaders should exercise their responsibilities to improve the state of the world for future generations. Read David's blog posts and
watch this 30 minute interview with David Christian
Watch this footage to hear what grade 9 students in the US have to say about their experience of learning Big History. They feel enriched by making the connection between earth and social sciences and claim it makes them 'think outside the box'!