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Chapter Eleven. Big History

Fred Spier

Subject History » Environmental History
Study of History » History and Theory

Place World

Period Pre-history

Key-Topics interdisciplinary, science, sources

DOI: 10.1111/b.9781444334180.2012.00012.x


In big history, the human past is placed within the context of the history of life, our planet, our solar system, our galaxy, and even the universe as a whole. Thus, in a radical departure from established academic ways of looking at human history, in big history our common past is viewed from within the whole of natural history ever since the beginning of the universe. The term “big history” was coined by the historian David Christian. In 1989, Christian started a cross-disciplinary course at Macquarie University, in Sydney, Australia, in which academics ranging from astronomers to historians gave lectures about their portions of the all-embracing past. This course has become a model for other university courses in Australia, the United States, and the Netherlands, including the ones I have been teaching since 1994, first at the University of Amsterdam and later also at the Eindhoven University of Technology. In the 1970s and 1980s, other big history courses emerged independently, such as the ones pioneered by astrophysicist Eric Chaisson and astronomer George Field at Harvard University, historian John Mears at Southern Methodist University, and astrophysicist Siegfried Kutter at Evergreen State College in Washington State. All these courses have attracted large numbers of enthusiastic students. The need for course materials soon led to the publication of an increasing number ... log in or subscribe to read full text

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