What is 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.

Van Gogh's painting - Starry Night over the RhoneVan 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. 

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

The Big History Institute provides a hub for scholars interested in interdisciplinary research on fundamental scholarly problems. The Institute also provides a focus for Macquarie University's teaching, in-service training, and knowledge dissemination in Big History.

Macquarie University is the intellectual birthplace of Big History. Whilst exploring conceptions of history on very large scales Professor David Christian coined the term "Big History" to argue for an expansion of the temporal and disciplinary limits of history. Big History has since emerged worldwide as an exciting area of interdisciplinary research and teaching.

David Christian taught one of the world's first Big History courses at Macquarie in 1989. He is the author of "Maps of Time", co-founder with Bill Gates of the "Big History Project", inaugural President of the International Big History Association, and Director of the Big History Institute at Macquarie University.