Posted by: clholoman | June 15, 2012

This is big—really big

I had two teaching projects in the formative stages when I moved over to administration six (!) years ago. I’m still very intrigued by one, which has hit the news a bit recently–the conceptual framework of Big History. I stumbled on it almost by accident, responding to a postcard ad for a new book, Maps of Time, which sounded like it might fit into my World Geography and History class. It turned out to be the book that has become the basic text for this idea. At its most basic level,  “Big History seeks to understand the integrated history of the Cosmos, Earth, Life, and Humanity, using the best available empirical evidence and scholarly methods.” In other words, there is something to be gained from looking at history in the broadest terms, from the Big Bang to the present. At this scale, all of human existence is a relative blip. Beyond this, I think you can go in a couple of directions. Some have gone to what I think is an extreme in detecting fractal-like similarities in patterns of nature, regardless of scale. More fruitful, I think, (and I think the reason the Gates Foundation has put a lot of money into getting this into the secondary school curriculum) is to use this approach as a way to stick a toe into a variety of disciplines in the natural and social sciences, while also considering interesting questions in the philosophy of science, the narure of myth, etc.. And there are lots of cool tools being developed. If you don’t follow any of the other links in this post, please go play around at Chronozoom. There’s an introductory tour; click the little film icon in the top left. I just think this could be an amazing course or two-course sequence to teach; a perfect embodiment of the liberal arts philosophy of inquisitiveness and broad learning.

For more, here is their new professional association, and here is a recent piece from HuffPo that shows how Big History is moving into the mainstream. You can also find some stuff on Facebook by searching on Big History.

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