About Big History

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.

Iconic images for Big History

1888: 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, as well as water, the key component for any living planet. It captures well a sense of our need to understand our place in a larger universe.

Van Gogh's painting - Starry Night over the Rhone

2012: Overview

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.

 astronaut viewing earth
The image of this astronaut looking at earth is a screenshot 
from the short documentary 'Overview' from Planetary Collective.