Big History is an academic course covering “our complete 13.8 billion years of shared history”. From the Big Bang to modern-day society, the course is structured around eight “threshold” moments of increasing complexity, synthesising aspects of cosmology, physics, chemistry, geology, and anthropology to weave a unified story of history so far. The eight thresholds:
- The Universe
- The First Stars
- The Chemical Elements
- The Earth and the Solar System
- The Paleolithic Era
- The Agrarian Era
- The Modern Era
I first heard of Big History when I read that it was Bill Gates’ favourite academic course of all time. Like Gates, I followed the course from The Great Courses / Wondrium: Big History: The Big Bang, Life on Earth, and the Rise of Humanity. I recently restudied the course and it’s still an incredible resource that I would recommend to anyone.
David Christian is considered the the ‘father’ of Big History, having started teaching a course on the topic back in 1989 (he’s also the presenter of the course above). You can watch Christian’s 2011 TED Talk, providing “the history of our world in 18 minutes”, to get an idea of the course content.
If you’re interested in taking the course, there are now some great free options available, if you don’t want to take the ‘original’ version, including:
- the Big History Project, funded by Gates and created alongside Christian for high schools around the world;
- Coursera options from the University of Amsterdam, Sydney’s Macquarie University, and Yale;
- a Khan Academy course; and
- as a series of ten 15-minute(ish) videos on John and Hank Green’s Crash Course YouTube channel.
In 2018, Christian also published Origin Story: A Big History of Everything, if you prefer.