Big History: The Big Bang, Life on Earth, and the Rise of Humanity

Course No. 8050
Professor David Christian, D.Phil.
Macquarie University
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Course No. 8050
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Course Overview

About 100,000 to 60,000 years ago, a species of hominines—bipedal ape-like creatures—began to move out of its home territory in Africa and into the Asian continent. Today, homo sapiens, the descendants of those first hominines—live in nearly every ecological niche. We fly through the air in planes, communicate instantaneously over immense distances, and develop theories about the creation of the Universe. In Big History: The Big Bang, Life on Earth, and the Rise of Humanity, you’ll hear this ever-evolving story—the history of everything—in its monumental entirety from the moment the Universe grew from the size of an atom to the size of a galaxy in a fraction of a second.

Taught by historian David Christian, Big History offers a unique opportunity to view human history in the context of the many histories that surround it. Over the course of 48 thought-provoking lectures, he'll serve as your guide as you traverse the sweeping expanse of cosmic history—13.7 billion years of it—starting with the big bang and traveling through time and space to the present moment.

A Grand Synthesis of Knowledge

Have you ever wondered: How do various scholarly discourses—cosmology, geology, anthropology, biology, history—fit together?

Big History answers that question by weaving a single story from a variety of scholarly disciplines. Like traditional creation stories told by the world's great religions and mythologies, Big History provides a map of our place in space and time. But it does so using the insights and knowledge of modern science, as synthesized by a renowned historian.

This is a story scholars have been able to tell only since the middle of the last century, thanks to the development of new dating techniques in the mid-1900s. As Professor Christian explains, this story will continue to grow and change as scientists and historians accumulate new knowledge about our shared past.

Eight "Thresholds"

To tell this epic, Professor Christian organizes the history of creation into eight "thresholds." Each threshold marks a point in history when something truly new appeared and forms never before seen began to arise.

Starting with the first threshold, the creation of the Universe, Professor Christian traces the developments of new, more complex entities, including:

  • The creation of the first stars (threshold 2)
  • The origin of life (threshold 5)
  • The development of the human species (threshold 6)
  • The moment of modernity (threshold 8).

In the final lectures, you'll even gain a glimpse into the future as you review speculations offered by scientists about where our species, our world, and our Universe may be heading.

Getting the "Big" Picture

While you may have heard parts of this story before in courses on geology, history, anthropology, biology, cosmology, and other scholarly disciplines, Big History provides more than just a recap. This course will expand the scope of your perspective on the past and alter the way you think about history and the world around you.

""Because of the scale on which we look at the past, you should not expect to find in it many of the familiar details, names, and personalities that you'll find in other types of historical teaching and writing,"" explains Professor Christian. ""For example, the French Revolution and the Renaissance will barely get a mention. They'll zoom past in a blur. You'll barely see them. Instead, what we're going to see are some less familiar aspects of the past. ... We'll be looking, above all, for the very large patterns, the shape of the past.""

Thanks to this grand perspective, you'll uncover the remarkable parallels and connections among disciplines that remain to be explored when you view history on a large scale. How is the creation of stars like the building of cities? How is the big bang like the invention of agriculture? These are the kinds of connections you'll find yourself pondering as you undergo the grand shift in perspective afforded by Big History.

Fascinating Facts

Along the way, you'll encounter intriguing tidbits that put the grand scale of this story in perspective, such as:

  • The entire expanse of human civilization—5,000 years—makes up a mere 2 percent of the human experience.
  • Approximately 98 percent of human history occurred before the invention of agriculture.
  • All the matter we know of in the Universe is likely to be no more than 1 billionth of the actual matter that was originally created.
  • The Earth's Moon was probably created by a collision between the young Earth and a Mars-sized protoplanet.
  • At present, we cannot drill deeper than about 7 miles into the Earth, which is just 0.2% of the distance to the center (4,000 miles away).
  • Between 1000 C.E. and 2000 C.E., human populations rose by a factor of 24.
  • Traveling in a jet plane, it would take 5 million years to get from our solar system to the next nearest star.

The Story We Tell about Ourselves

"To understand ourselves," says Professor Christian, "we need to know the very large story, the largest story of all." And that, perhaps, is one of the greatest benefits of Big History: It provides a thought-provoking way to help us understand our own place within the Universe.

From humankind's place within the context of evolutionary history to our impact on the larger biosphere—both now and in our species' past—this course offers a broad yet nuanced examination of our place in creation. It also poses a profound question: Is it possible that our species is the only entity created by the Universe with the capacity to ponder its mysteries?

There is, perhaps, no more profound question to ask, and no better guide on this quest for understanding than Professor Christian. A pioneer in this approach to understanding history, Professor Christian has made big history his personal project for more than two decades. Working with experts in a variety of fields, he designed and taught some of the first big history courses, and has published widely on the topic.

Accept his invitation to get the big picture on Big History, and prepare for a journey through time and across space, from the first moments of existence to the distant reaches of the far future.

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48 lectures
 |  Average 30 minutes each
  • 1
    What Is Big History?
    Is it possible to tell a story of everything, from the big bang up to the present day? This lecture introduces the background and unique aspects of this broad, multidisciplinary perspective on history. x
  • 2
    Moving across Multiple Scales
    Most history courses cover time spans of a few decades or a few centuries, but big history requires us to survey the past over scales that span billions of years. This lecture explores ways to become more familiar with the immense scales needed to cover the modern creation story. x
  • 3
    Simplicity and Complexity
    In this lecture, we introduce one of the unifying themes of the course: the development of increasing complexity since the creation of the Universe. Here, we'll examine the definition of complexity and ask how our Universe builds more complex entities. x
  • 4
    Evidence and the Nature of Science
    Why should we trust the claims of modern science about events in the distant past? This lecture lays some ground rules about evidence for proving scientific claims and describes how new dating techniques have allowed scientists to peer further back into the past than previously thought possible. x
  • 5
    Threshold 1—Origins of Big Bang Cosmology
    We encounter the first threshold of complexity—the creation of the Universe at the moment of the big bang—and explore the scientific evidence that allows us to piece together this ever-evolving story of creation. x
  • 6
    How Did Everything Begin?
    This lecture surveys the history of different ideas about the creation of the Universe, from Ptolemaic theories of an Earth-centered cosmos to the modern notion of a constantly expanding Universe. x
  • 7
    Threshold 2—The First Stars and Galaxies
    How did the Universe change from a cloud of dust to a constellation of stellar bodies? This lecture describes how gravity was fundamental in crossing the second threshold of the course: the creation of stars and galaxies from huge clouds of hydrogen and helium atoms. x
  • 8
    Threshold 3—Making Chemical Elements
    Stars created the preconditions for crossing a third threshold of complexity: the formation of chemical elements. As stars collapse and die, they fuse to create new atoms that are the building blocks of all the complex chemicals that make up our Earth. x
  • 9
    Threshold 4—The Earth and the Solar System
    With this lecture, we shift from the scale of the Universe to that of our solar system. Here we examine the processes by which planets and solar systems are created and the evidence that helps us piece together this part of the story. x
  • 10
    The Early Earth—A Short History
    The tumultuous early history of the Earth is presented in this lecture, including the development of our planet's internal layers, the generation of its magnetic field, the creation of the first seas, and the appearance of its early atmosphere. x
  • 11
    Plate Tectonics and the Earth's Geography
    In this lecture, we examine the history of the Earth's surface and learn how the notion of our planet as fixed and unchanging was eventually overturned by a new vision of the Earth's crust as broken into plates that are constantly on the move. x
  • 12
    Threshold 5—Life
    With the consideration of the next threshold of complexity, life, we develop a definition of life itself, and begin to consider how life-forms adapt and change over time. x
  • 13
    Darwin and Natural Selection
    In On the Origin of Species, Charles Darwin revealed a new story: an account of how all living species change and adapt. This lecture recounts how Darwin arrived at his revolutionary theory, and how he shared his ideas with contemporaries who were making similar breakthroughs. x
  • 14
    The Evidence for Natural Selection
    In this lecture, we examine the various kinds of evidence Darwin used to establish his theory of natural selection, including the fossil record, similarities among species, and the geographic distribution of species. We also review modern evidence of natural selection. x
  • 15
    The Origins of Life
    How was life first created from non-life? Modern biologists tell a complex story of the creation of life which involves the development of organic matter from simpler molecules such as amino acids, nucleic acids, sugars, and proteins. x
  • 16
    Life on Earth—Single-celled Organisms
    How was life first created from non-life? Modern biologists tell a complex story of the creation of life which involves the development of organic matter from simpler molecules such as amino acids, nucleic acids, sugars, and proteins. x
  • 17
    Life on Earth—Multi-celled Organisms
    The fusion of single-celled organisms into larger, multi-celled organisms c. 600 million years ago marked a turning point in the development of life forms on this planet. In this lecture, we focus on the evolution of multi-cellular organisms, tracing four evolutionary steps leading to our own species, Homo sapiens. x
  • 18
    How did modern humans evolve from ape-like ancestors? This lecture surveys the evolution of primates and great apes, and then traces the adaptive development of hominines, a group of bipedal primates that appeared in Africa 7 million years ago. x
  • 19
    Evidence on Hominine Evolution
    To construct the story of hominine evolution, scientists rely on three kinds of evidence: archaeological evidence, evidence based on the study of modern primates, and evidence based on genetic comparisons between modern species of primates, including ourselves. x
  • 20
    Threshold 6—What Makes Humans Different?
    Human beings represent a new threshold of complexity in the story of life on Earth. In this lecture, we examine two things that make us unique: use of symbolic language and collective learning. x
  • 21
    Homo sapiens—The First Humans
    Does the archaeological record reveal when the first members of our species appeared? In this lecture, we examine evidence from the Stone Age and consider several theories of the early history of the first humans. x
  • 22
    Paleolithic Lifeways
    Using remains left behind by our ancestors and studies of modern societies that still use stone technologies, modern researchers have constructed a portrait of the Paleolithic way of life. In this lecture, we enter into this world and learn what life was like for our distant ancestors. x
  • 23
    Change in the Paleolithic Era
    Change was gradual over the course of the long Paleolithic era, but there were some significant shifts that altered lifeways for human beings. These include climate changes during two ice ages, the rise of various technological innovations, and adaptive migration to nearly all parts of the globe. x
  • 24
    Threshold 7—Agriculture
    The appearance of agriculture set human history off in entirely new directions by increasing human control of food, energy, and other resources. The development of agriculture brings about changes in the environment and lays the foundation for the development of more complex human societies. x
  • 25
    The Origins of Agriculture
    Why, after 200,000 years of foraging, should human communities in quite different parts of the world take up agriculture almost simultaneously? In this lecture, we explore the different factors leading to this innovation. x
  • 26
    The First Agrarian Societies
    Although early agrarian societies left behind no written record, there is evidence of many important new developments during this period. Here, we explore the lifeways of these societies, and question whether agriculture meant the early farmers lived better than their forager ancestors. x
  • 27
    Power and Its Origins
    Approximately 5,000 years ago, the human species saw the rise of a new form of social organization: the first "tribute-taking" states. We begin our consideration of these states by asking how power is defined and what forms it takes. x
  • 28
    Early Power Structures
    How did humankind move from kinship clans and small agricultural villages to enormous centralized societies? This lecture surveys the archaeological and anthropological evidence used to reconstruct the evolution of power structures and theorizes how these larger societies took shape. x
  • 29
    From Villages to Cities
    This lecture introduces the 5,000 years of human history that were dominated by the huge and powerful societies: agrarian civilizations. With the development of writing, we get the first era of recorded history. x
  • 30
    Sumer—The First Agrarian Civilization
    How did the buildup of human and material resources during the early Agrarian era lead to the development of the first tribute-taking states and the first real cities? Here, we'll examine one of the earliest agrarian civilizations, Sumer in southern Mesopotamia, to learn how these new developments arose. x
  • 31
    Agrarian Civilizations in Other Regions
    How typical was Sumer of agrarian civilizations in general? This lecture briefly surveys six different areas where agrarian civilizations appeared early, including northeastern Africa, northern India, China, and the Americas. x
  • 32
    The World That Agrarian Civilizations Made
    Despite the limited contact among them, early agrarian civilizations the world over shared many features. In this lecture, we'll examine these features and speculate why agrarian societies seem to develop along similar lines despite regional differences. x
  • 33
    Long Trends—Expansion and State Power
    In this lecture, we begin to take the long view of agrarian civilizations, marking two trends that occurred during the course of 4,000 years: the expansion of civilizations to cover larger regions and incorporate more people, and the increasing power and reach of their rulers. x
  • 34
    Long Trends—Rates of Innovation
    Agrarian civilizations were able to expand because they developed new ways to extract resources and manage populations. This lecture examines how features such as population growth, commerce, and tribute-taking states helped encourage innovation. x
  • 35
    Long Trends—Disease and Malthusian Cycles
    Throughout human history, we see periods of innovation, population growth, increasing trade and urbanization, political expansion, and cultural efflorescence. Then, sometimes quite suddenly, there is a crash. In this lecture, we examine the factors that contribute to this cycle of boom and crash, referred to as the Malthusian cycle. x
  • 36
    Comparing the World Zones
    The previous two lectures describe factors that both stimulated and limited growth in the era of agrarian civilizations in Afro-Eurasia, the largest of the four world zones of human history. Here, we begin to question whether these same features and processes appear in American, Australasian, and Pacific zones. x
  • 37
    The Americas in the Later Agrarian Era
    In this lecture, we see that American agrarian civilizations experienced many of the same developments as those in Afro-Eurasia, but these developments appeared much later and never spread as far as in other world region. x
  • 38
    Threshold 8—The Modern Revolution
    In the last millennium, the pace of change accelerated sharply and decisively. Since then, humankind has experienced a number of astonishing changes, including accelerating innovation, the formation of larger and more complex societies, the integration of the four world zones, and the growing human impact on the biosphere. x
  • 39
    The Medieval Malthusian Cycle, 500–1350
    This lecture describes the medieval Malthusian cycle, which lasted from the decline of the Roman and Han Empires to the time of the Black Death. We will focus on Afro-Eurasia, the largest and most significant of the four world zones, and the region that drove change in the early stages of the Modern Revolution. x
  • 40
    The Early Modern Cycle, 1350–1700
    During the Early Modern cycle, for the first time in human history, the four world zones became linked through global exchange networks which stimulated both commerce and capitalism. Yet for other world zones, these changes were catastrophic, bringing disease and population collapse. x
  • 41
    Breakthrough—The Industrial Revolution
    By 1700, many elements of modernity seemed to be in place, yet global rates of innovation remained slow. This lecture describes the breakthrough to modernity after 1700, focusing on one country, Britain, where the transformation has been studied most intensively. x
  • 42
    Spread of the Industrial Revolution to 1900
    Within just two centuries, industrialization had transformed the entire world. No earlier transformation in human history had been so rapid or so far-reaching. This lecture describes the impact of industrialization before 1900. x
  • 43
    The 20th Century
    In this lecture, we examine the hallmark events of the 20th century, including major worldwide wars, two waves of innovation, huge population growth, and an enormous surge in energy use. x
  • 44
    The World That the Modern Revolution Made
    In this lecture, we attempt to describe, as we did for Paleolithic and agrarian societies, the lifeways of the Modern era. What emerges is a portrait of a single, world-spanning community of more than 6 billion people supported by ever-increasing technological innovation. x
  • 45
    Human History and the Biosphere
    How has our increasing power over the natural world affected our relationship to planet Earth? Are we becoming a malignant presence within the biosphere, driving other species to extinction and impacting global climactic systems in unpredictable ways? x
  • 46
    The Next 100 Years
    After surveying 13 billion years, can we resist peering into the future? We take a tantalizing glimpse into speculations about which historic trends may continue into the next century. x
  • 47
    The Next Millennium and the Remote Future
    Our speculations into future developments continue with an examination of several theories about what life will be like 1,000 years in the future. Then we'll jump even further ahead, with scientific theorization about the ultimate fate of the Universe. x
  • 48
    Big History—Humans in the Cosmos
    In the final lecture of this course, we pause to ask some fundamental questions about meaning: What is the place of human beings in the Universe? Are we, perhaps, the only creations of the Universe that have consciousness? x

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Your professor

David Christian

About Your Professor

David Christian, D.Phil.
Macquarie University
Dr. David Christian is Professor of History at Macquarie University in Sydney, Australia. He earned a B.A. in History from Oxford University, an M.A. in Russian History from The University of Western Ontario, and a D.Phil. in 19th-Century Russian History from Oxford University. He previously taught at San Diego State University. Professor Christian's course on big history stems from an experimental history course he developed...
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Big History: The Big Bang, Life on Earth, and the Rise of Humanity is rated 4.6 out of 5 by 200.
Rated 5 out of 5 by from A Big Story This is the first and one of the best Great Courses that I have studied. Professor Christian is a funny, intelligent, and charming teacher who mixes the science of Carl Sagan (famous for his Cosmos TV series) and the history of H. G. Wells (famous for his sci-fi novels and Outline of History book) to tell an epic story of the birth, life, and death of the universe, world, life, and mankind. The course guidebook also does a great job of summarizing the videos and the pictures shown in the videos of scientific phenomena and historical discoveries are quite marvelous. Bill Gates (the billionaire) loved this course, so both the rich man (Gates) and the poor man (myself) agree that education breaks all economic barriers. Although David explicitly denies being a philosopher in the lecture mentioning Descartes, in my opinion, he is one of the greatest philosophical thinkers and historians of our times and the synthesis of Big History is his greatest achievement (in addition to studying the effects of Russian vodka firsthand).
Date published: 2018-04-30
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Energetic, enthusiastic and personable presentation - even through the audio. I learned more than in any other course. Highly recommend for new-bies.
Date published: 2018-04-09
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Great course Great course in all aspects of it such as contents and professor delivery. I wish I could dive deeper into the each topic discussed, but for this everyone has to go by themselves.
Date published: 2018-04-02
Rated 3 out of 5 by from Good but flawed Good summary of history of the universe but flawed by speakers endless thinly veiled attempt to belittle any religion. He seems to continuously carp on that position as if he has any ax to grind. With out that I would recommend it.
Date published: 2018-03-12
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Audacious and Mostly Successful I should give this course an extra half star for originality and ambition. Presenting a macro-macro-macro treatment of “everything”—that is, the origin and evolution of the universe, the story of our planet and the origins of life on it, an overview of evolution, the origins of humans and their first pre-agrarian 200,000 years, the pre-industrial millennia, the modern revolution of the last 300 years, and what’s likely to happen in the next century as well as in the far-distant future—focusing on the big picture rather than individual subjects typically dealt with in their own courses—is a novel and (I guess) commendable undertaking. Such an undertaking would likely turn out differently if presented by a cosmologist, an evolutionary biologist, an anthropologist, a sociologist, or a “futurist”. In this case the professor is a conventionally-trained historian who has dipped into all those other disciplines rather than put in Malcolm Gladwell’s “10,000 hours” to master any of them—admittedly an impossibility. The resulting product is remarkably well presented, to the extent that anyone can spend an hour or two explaining a subject area at the collegiate level that he hasn’t formally trained or worked in, and I didn’t pick up many apparent discrepancies or possible errors based on what’s been presented in the other 80 Teaching Company courses I’ve taken (or my own patchy expertise). However, this was, for me, one of the few courses where the professor’s presentation style and teaching approach were just a bit distracting from the content. There seemed to be a subtle sub-theme that this whole thing is incredibly complex and no one else could possibly have pulled it all together. Practically speaking, given the inherently audacious and thrilling premise of the course, the lectures could have been more, well, thrilling, had the presentation not been quite so pedantic and repetitious. Maybe I’m being unfair: it really is a revolutionary way of presenting a whole bunch of material from half a dozen disciplines and trying to stitch it all together. Not all of it does stitch together into the overall construct equally well, and in a few places the lectures seemed a bit forced in order to make them parallel the rest of the narrative. But overall it’s an impressive achievement, frequently thought-provoking, and definitely worth watching all 48 lectures.
Date published: 2017-12-15
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Excellent! Really well done and interesting. Everyone should watch.
Date published: 2017-10-30
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Fantastic course i am not done with the course, but I just had to write. The professor is so engaging I "can't put it down" -- video download It is not on sale now, but when it comes up on sale grab it. You won't be disappointed.
Date published: 2017-09-10
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Tells me exactly what the course is about Several years ago I listened to this course. I learned so much. Recently I bought it and am watching it. It is a wonderful origin story! D. Christian is a great teacher.
Date published: 2017-04-17
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Excellent professor Have watched this twice, and have learned more about the subject than ever before.
Date published: 2017-04-08
Rated 5 out of 5 by from One of the best I first watched Big History on Plus. I then purchased it. I read Guns, Germs, and Steel last year which caused me to watch Big History. The course content and the professor are compelling. I have since purchased 4 other books that Dr. Christian cited in the course. I now own 170 Great Courses so when I say it is one of my favorites, it is high praise. Bill Gates did a you tube to tell everyone it was his favorite Great Course. Judge for yourself.
Date published: 2017-03-20
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Very extensive! What a great course. The professor seemed to be well versed in all areas he touches upon, and that’s saying something considering how much is covered in this vast course. This course is great for anyone who loves the history of just about anything. Astronomy history is covered in the formation of the universe, galaxy, solar system, and Earth. Biology history is covered in the origin of life, single and multi-celled organisms, through the history of evolution. Human history is covered from the first hominines through the emergence of agrarian civilizations to current humans. This course holds your interest through each lecture, and I couldn’t wait to start the next one.
Date published: 2017-03-08
Rated 5 out of 5 by from This is an excellent introduction to Big History. The presentation was dynamic and engaging. A few of the lectures could have been shortened and a few could have been expanded on. However overall it was definitely worthwhile.
Date published: 2017-02-24
Rated 4 out of 5 by from A History Course Like None You've Ever Taken This is a history course unlike any I've ever experienced that explains trends and events using a very big picture lens (vs. specific civilizations or nations) and organizes the history of creation into eight "thresholds” (a point in history when something truly new appeared and forms never before seen began to arise): o Threshold 1- Creation of the universe o Threshold 2- Creation of the first stars o Threshold 3- Formation of chemical elements (that make up our earth) o Threshold 4- Creation of our solar system and the planet Earth o Threshold 5- Origin of life o Threshold 6- Development of the human species o Threshold 7- Invention of Agriculture o Threshold 8- The age of modernity Very interesting and unique course on the history of everything: 13.7 billion years of the universe is explored using different scholarly disciplines including cosmology, astronomy, physics, chemistry, geology, biology, paleontology, archaeology, anthropology, and history. Definitions of the disciplines and the role they play in Big History: o Cosmology- the study of the origin and development of the universe (helps us understand the Big Bang and how the universe was created) o Astronomy- the study of celestial objects, space, and the physical universe as a whole (helps us study the structure of the universe) o Physics- the study of the nature and properties of matter and energy (helps us study the creation of the sun and our solar system) o Chemistry- the study of the substances of which matter is composed, their properties and the ways in which they interact, combine (to form new substances), and change (helps us study the processes that led to the creation of Earth) o Geology- the study of how Earth's physical structure and substance has changed (helps us study how the changes in the structure of Earth leads to the creation of life) o Biology- the study of living organisms (helps us study the origins of life on our planet and its evolution) o Paleontology- discovery and study of ancient fossils to reconstruct that organism’s life (helps provide information on various species that eventually evolved to the homo sapiens species that exists today) o Archaeology- the study of ancient human artifacts/bones (helps us study the invention of agriculture) o Anthropology- the study of human societies and cultures and their development (helps us study the invention of power structures: city states with kings/high priests, etc.) o History- the study of past events, particularly in human affairs (using the invention of writing (i.e. written documents), history helps us to understand the evolution of large complex agrarian city states) Anytime the professor introduces a new level or sub-level of complexity he doesn’t just assume everyone understands and is in agreement with that entity’s definition. Instead, he takes a pain-staking approach to provide intriguing and thought-provoking definitions for items we may all take for granted including "life", "human species", "agriculture", and “Agrarian civilizations”. These definitions help articulate why they represent a new level of complexity and pinpoint when they were first introduced. Rather than just state theories or make assumptions, the professor provides scientific evidence and explanations on how we “know” certain things like the distance and makeup of stars, the age of the universe, the existence of evolution, and why agriculture first began. Minuses: • Was hoping for a little more time spent on the evolution of life on earth from single-celled organisms to the complex multi-celled organisms including: o The different forms of organisms (those that exist today and those that do not) o Development of vertebrae, teeth, eyes, etc. o Descriptions of the creatures that transitioned from water to land o Rise of the dinosaurs and how the asteroid caused their extinction • The latter lectures on the modern era (the last threshold) were the only ones that just didn’t capture my interest for some reason • The last few lectures tended to tilt a little too much towards the negative side of the human species: i.e. how destructive human beings have been on the earth, its ecology, and its other species All in all this was an interesting take on history and the course was excellently produced by Professor Christian. I recommend this course to anyone with an interest in big picture history be it of our universe, our planet, or our species. I would imagine there would be alot in this course for anyone to learn and contemplate and I thoroughly enjoyed my personal experience through these thought-provoking lectures.
Date published: 2017-02-14
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Excellent course, great presentation I am looking for a method to arrange a course that I teach in astronomy. I am very interested in presenting it in a cogent way emphasizing the history of the cosmos as the underlying theme. Dr. Christian does this in an excellent manner...very well presented for me.
Date published: 2017-01-12
Rated 5 out of 5 by from A valid and excellent view of our world's history. I was mesmerized listening to this great course. To have a "big" view of History is something that I never thought of. In order to understand what a big view, the listener needs to experience this expanded vision of our world. There is really no minutia here; no small details. And what you hear is fascinating: from the creation of our universe to today.
Date published: 2016-11-12
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Big HIstory This is a super great course. It covers 13.7 billion years of history in an amazing and digestible way. I give it two thumbs way way up!!
Date published: 2016-08-19
Rated 4 out of 5 by from The presentation flows very well. The professor's presentation is excellent. However, I would have rated it a 5 if there were more illustrations.
Date published: 2016-07-29
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Interesting Way to View History I love history and I enjoyed this class very much. The Professor does tend to repeat things, but that's okay with me-it's a long class and if I am interrupted for a few days in watching, the repetition gets me back up to speed quickly without have ing to re-listen to previous lectures. i thought the depth and breath of knowledge of this Professor was wonderful. He uses information and quotes not only from science but also from literature, philosophy, and other arts. He chose examples, in terms of data, visuals, and quotations, very wisely. The graphics and photographs were good and on the screen long enough for the viewer to absorb them. All visuals and other source material reinforce the topic he is discussing. He presents different viewpoints from well-respected scientists. The professor does assume that the listener is on board with things like the big bang theory, evolution, and climate change. If those concepts are not ones you agree with, you may not find this course to your liking.
Date published: 2016-05-12
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Outstanding overview of it all! I loved this introduction to the history of everything, from the Big Bang forward. Professor is an interesting lecturer, the visuals are quite helpful, and I was fully engaged from start to finish. Was a great start to various areas of interest that I am now pursuing in more depth, including archaeology, history, and physics.
Date published: 2016-03-23
Rated 5 out of 5 by from The answer to "Why?" I have been a student all of my life, and this has been the crowning study, the one which tied all of the rest of it together. Told through the eyes of multiple academic disciplines, the story is new and exciting, even though it is an outline of all that is known. I believe that I have been blessed never to have stopped asking "Why?", and Big History doesn't answer the question, but it gives a view of the syntax of the large story. Probably this should be the first course, but I think listening to it at an advanced age has a special sweetness.
Date published: 2016-02-15
Rated 2 out of 5 by from waste of time and money Do not buy this course. I have bought many courses from this company but this is the worst. Kind of silly scientific Harry Potter novel. Tons of clever words but very few facts. Instead better buy a New history of life by professor Sutherland if you are interested in a Big History.
Date published: 2016-02-11
Rated 5 out of 5 by from A Big Course Some of the criticisms are correct but I think miss the point. A course that goes from the origin of the universe to the future will omit some important detail. What it does is give a framework to structure understanding of the various disciplines covered. I thought the presentation was very good and the course should serve as a door opener to so much more. I've listened to the course twice and gained a lot from the second hearing.
Date published: 2016-02-07
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Pretty darn BIG I have not had time to get through all the lectures yet, but what I have seen, I am very impressed with and have enjoyed
Date published: 2016-01-25
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Big History = Big Value I absolutely love this course. I am currently listening to the CD set for the second time. Professor Christian's calm delivery and occasional bits of understated British humor help to make my commute almost fun. I am so enthusiastic about the course that I even purchased Professor Christian's giant book, The Maps of Time, upon which the course is based. I will be listening to the CD set again and again while delving in to the book for even more illustrations of the author's insights. He has an astounding grasp of history, cosmology, physics, and societal dynamics. I find something surprising in nearly every lecture and chapter. Try it, you will be entertained at the same time your IQ is bound to inch up a bit!
Date published: 2016-01-14
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Big History - Could do better Firstly, I totally agree with Prof. Christian that this is a very important area of study. However in places this course is muddled and unhelpful. Therefore, I hope the prof. can revisit the course material and make some corrections. I am neither an astrophysicist, nor a geologist, nor a paleontologist not a historian, and I haven't time to research and correct all the weaknesses myself. Some reviewers are critical of the failure to cover things like the Higgs Boson or String Theory - but those are irrelevant. The mechanism of gravity does not need to be known, only the effect. As for String Theory, it is just that at the moment, a theory, it is far from established, and it hardly reveals any historical perspectives. Other reviewers complain about the 3-way repetition of preface-say it- summary, but I didn't find that as annoying as the desire to constantly make generalisations in a vain attempt to add value to a material that clearly isn't his. Although I was suprised by some of the repetition. At one point he says: "Let me give you an example. Here's an example, for example ...". I dreaded him talking about population 'millions', sounding like Fagin in Oliver Twist, but thankfully he got out of that habit after a while. I also dreaded hearing him mention "energy flows". Its at times like that that prof. Christian's lack of a hard scientific background shows. After all, what does that mean, exactly? Can you write an equation for it? Its just a nice wooly concept. It may be a helpful idea, but its not something to obsess over as if you've established some new scientific theorem. (It fails the two criteria of disprovability and abiltiy to predict). I felt the same about the "collective learning" concept. The prof. wants to say that the internet and its connectivity introduces a step change in the complexity - but then why not distinguish the creation of writing, then the printing press then the telephone as well? It is hard to see how the professor's "collective learning" is any different from "language" and that is a word that everyone can immediately understand. Its as if he's inventing new terms in a desperate attempt to give his study credence. And the thing is, everyone from Noam Chomsky to your local retailer can agree that the introduction of human language is a key milestone in this universe time span. I think the Summary Timeline at the end of the booklet needs pruning. Notably he ommits to put the invention of language in the timeline, one of the most significant events. Again too much focus on generalities at the expense of real knowledge. There are around 18 milestones from the Big Bang till HomoSapiens, then after that it is mostly normal human history which many people may already know. I feel that if this was done more clearly, then the end of the course, listeners could remember most of those fundamental 18 milestones, that describe how we got here. That's the kind of thing you want to explain to an inquisitive child. I will now list the areas in which this course is muddled and needs clarification. I will date events from After Big Bang (ABB) because then the relationships are more clear. 1. In the steps for the creation of our solar system, and the whole sense of geneology is lost. By geneology I mean, how many generations of solar systems could there have been in the 9B years before our solar system formed? In his timeline he shows the first start appearing 200m years ABB, then the first supernovae creating the elements we come from 2 billion years ABB. Then he has a gap of 7B years with nothing happening! I just wonder how many lifecycles of element producing stars could there be in that time? Well to produce our Earth, with heavy and useful elements like Silver and Lead and Uranium, you need a star that turns supernova. To get that you need one with a mass of 1.5 to 3 times that of our sun (a Huge Star) or larger (a Giant Star) but not too large or it will end in a black hole. The lifespan of element producing stars is about 2.5B to 3.5B years. Our solar system formed 9B years after the BB, and our advanced life appeared about 5B years after that, which is actually very quick, when you look at it. So either our solar system formed from one of the first stars after a gap of about 6.5B years, or it is formed later, from a star formed anytime in the first 6.5B years. The significance of this is that we are probably not the first generation of living creatures in the universe. There has been time for other solar systems to form, and still time for them to take 5B years to develop intelligent life like ours, before we even got here. There has even been time for their sun to become a red giant and destroy their entire solar system before we even got here. However, although we may not be first intelligent life in the universe, we are definitely here very near the beginning (of what will be a very long life). 2. In lecture 16 I found the description of Prokaryotes and Eukaryotes confusing. Perhaps the video version is better? Still, there could have been a diagram in the book. It would have been much simpler to say that Prokaryotes are unstructured, relatively homogeneous single cells, whereas Eukaryotes have internal struture, principally a nucleus (then add that they also contain mitochondria). Its one of the principal stages so we need to be clear about it. There is a lot of faffing about and talk about Darwin between lectures 10 and 16, which doesn't need to be so belaboured for a modern reader. In any case, putting the distinction between cells with and without a nucleus in lecture 16, rendered part of lecture 10 meaningless. 3. In Lecture 10 he names the 4 eons of the Earth, to which I have tried to add helpful description. The dates are from the start of our solar system, or 9B years ABB Hadean: 0.0B - 0.7B years (no life forms) Archaean: 0.7B - 2.0B years ((I think)=first life appears as single celled Prokaryotes) Proterozoic: 2.0B - 4.0B years (?) Phanerozoic: 4.0B - 4.5B years ((I think)=start of Cambrian i.e. multi-cellular animals found) So we are told of an entire 2B year period, the Proterozoic, with no indication of what it was about! Did they just stick a pin in the time line and give it a name? I think it is actually the period of the Eukaryotes, or when the single celled organisms gained a nucleus and mitochondria. If you list the eons in this way, with their corresponding biological progressions, it is suddenly very clear: the names of the eons correspond to the key complexity milestones we are identifying. 4. The invention of Fire could have got a mention. It was more than just a convenience. I read somewhere else that the cooking of food enables more complex chemicals to be created and digested, and that in turn may have allowed our brains and bodies to develop to a more advanced state. Is that true? I've no idea; I'm not the paid professor. 5. Instead of talking endlessly about "collective learning", it would have been nicer to just focus on the language question. For example, at what point did the physiology of our throats change to allow us to create the more complex sounds that the no other animals can produce? At some point, didn't our vocal chords migrate along the trachea? Also, taking cues from some of Chomsky's work, it would be nice to point out that a particular part of the brain developed to process language, that that language exists internally even when we aren't speaking, and that that genetic variation in one person must have somehow spread extremely widely. Also, in most people, the language learning component shuts down around puberty - which shows just how specialised and remarkable this evolutionary component is. Finally, the Professors peeks into the future are embarrassing. As other reviewers have mentioned, he knows his politically correct narratives, and again, it does seem like a struggle to add value. But if we are going to talk about the end of times, I'd have thought that a reflection on some of the fundamental, systemic, ideological battles that are going on, would be in order, and whatsmore wouldn't be telling people something they already know. For example, the conflict between the open, free society, and the closed theocratic one (Iran). Or the debate between small government and socialist central planning (causing the end of the USSR). Or the friction between the democratic capitalist model (USA), and the autocratic capitalist one (China). It would be worth reflecting that Democracy as we currently understand it (full suffrage), with all its attendant freedoms, has only been around for 100 years - a blink of the eye - whereas Islam has been a strong political movement for 1400 years. We need to disabuse ourselves of this impression of permanence, and realise that perhaps, these freedoms and rights we currently enjoy in the West, will be just a brief honeymoon in the history of human society. Alternatively we can just bring out all the old tropes as the Professor does, about Global Warming (sorry, Climate Change) and Nuclear War (but we only make caring noises; we don't do anything about Iran going nuclear). God give me strength. That's enough for now. I hope Prof. Christian, or anyone in fact, can be encouraged to revisit this subject, clarify and re-organise it, and re-release the course.
Date published: 2015-07-29
Rated 1 out of 5 by from Disappointing and dull For the past six months, I have sat through these lectures. I wanted to like this course. Indeed, this type of course is just the type of material that I have been developing and teaching: an integrated approach to the sciences. In the end, however, I simply cannot recommend this to others. First, David Christian's lecture style is dull dull dull. Every lecture felt interminable. I told myself they were only 30 minutes. I bribed myself to finish. And, yet, I still would pause as my mind wandered. Second, he would regularly say, "This is what we are going to do" and then a few minutes later having asserted something, he would say, "as we have seen . . ." Third, many times, he would present some data and say, "this data is tentative" and then later rely on this data to make some conclusion that seemed speculative at best, and still later rely on it to bolster his argument. I did buy his book. Maybe it will be better. We need this kind of integrated approach. For my money, I would suggest Hazen's Joy of Science course over this one.
Date published: 2015-07-28
Rated 1 out of 5 by from A Creation Tale for the Politically Correct As have many other people reviewing this course, I heard about it through a NYT article about Bill Gates' excitement about it. I am sorry to say that Mr. Gates and I part ways over the value of this course. I watched every episode. I noted that a couple of Dr. Christian's slides contain misspellings and should be corrected. I put up w/ the most annoying habit Dr. Christian has of telling you what he's going to tell you, then telling you, then telling you what he told you. Perhaps the current crop of university student need this but I find it annoying. Plus, it does seriously erode the time allowed for the meat of the course. I watched all the episodes that are cosmology, astronomy and geology w/ great interest. It's been a while since I had much intense review of those subjects.But I did find myselt getting antsy, eager to get to the history. I am an old anthropology major who has kept up w/ popular reading in the field of Early Man, but the review was nice. It was of concern that by the time we got to actual recorded history, 30 episodes were over. But it was a shock for the epoch described as Early Agrarian to be the last survey of world history. The Late Agrarian touched down on various places but nothing - NOTHING - of any of the classical, medieval, Renaissance European development w/ the exception of trading was mentioned. The emphasis was on other parts of the world. Not to be rude but the development of what Dr. Christian calls the Australian and Pacific Islander civilisations is simply not a story of invention and cultural advancement. Then we jumped to the year 1700, and jumped back and forth for a lecture or two. Then the shift was from the story of human development to the evils of the modern age. The last few lectures were all the current politically correct blaming and struggle to be inclusive. The point at which Dr. Christian jumped to the future was incredibly egregious nonsense - hypothetical depictions of how technology has led the human species to seize control of the world and how this will all come to a bad end. I'd send this back and ask for a refund if I could. Lacking that, I'll simply throw it in the trash.
Date published: 2015-06-24
Rated 5 out of 5 by from A trek across disciplines This is my first introduction to Big History, so for anyone who is already familiar with the perspective of this field I may sound overexcited… Well, this course has certainly proven to be radically different than any other history course I have taken up to this point. The obvious reason is that large portions of the course cover subjects that are totally outside the scope of this discipline called history. Professor Christian's approach, as he describes very thoroughly, almost rigorously, in the first lecture – is to talk about the history of modern humanity. ALL of the history. That means going back as far as we possibly can and understanding the evolution of the systems that came to be during the full lifespan of our universe. Naturally, one cannot go into great detail in such a discussion. On the contrary, the idea is to find the striking, profound, structural changes to systems in our universe as they evolved, without getting bogged down in the details. In his terms, the idea is to look for complexity thresholds in the history of the universe – from the big bang all the way to modern humanity. Professor Christian used a fantastic analogy to help explain this perspective: if you were a flea sitting on an elephant, and you only knew intimately the elephant's wrinkles, how many Copernican discoveries you would have if you were carried away in a spaceship while looking back at your elephant… You would discover that your wrinkles are only a small part of an elephant, and that the elephant is only a tiny dot in a savannah, which is on the African continent…. You get the idea. So big history is divided into eight complexity thresholds; starting from the early universe right after the big bang, until gravity created enough of an energy gradient to create stars (the next complexity level#, which eventually burned in nuclear processes all of the energy fuel in their elements and exploded in Supernovas to create all of the chemical elements of which planets are composed, with these chemical elements turning eventually into organic compounds and later #and there must be some sort of magic in this next step# into single celled life forms. The next level is the unifications of billions of single cell organisms into multi-cell organisms, then the evolution of humanoids, and finally the anthropological evolution of Homo-Sapiens from hunter gatherer to primitive farmer, to farmer civilization and finally – to modern civilization. This is a bold undertaking, since in many cases going from one complexity level to the next means summarizing study of a different discipline. The Big Bang, Stellar fuel processes and Supernovas are in the realm of Cosmologists, Astrophysicist, and Astronomers, while the next complexity level in the chain – planets – is customarily the territory of Geologists. In Big History, Professor Christian treks across many different disciplines starting with the examples above and touching Chemistry, biology, Paleoanthropology, Archaeology and History. In our modern world of ever greater specialization – this is highly unusual. The natural tendency is to politely ask Professor Christian as he is discussing the Big Bang theory, "I am sorry, but are you a licensed Cosmologist? Why should I be listening to your explanations about the Big Bang if you are not?" The reason is that while his discussion on these matters is not terribly deep in and of themselves, they are deep enough and sufficiently focused to flesh out the points that are of interest to Big History. These are: what do such wildly varying systems and evolutions have in common? What does modern humanity have in common with Stellar Fuel processes or with Single Cell organisms? Most of the course is devoted to answering these questions and I personally found the answers to be quite surprising and interesting. Professor Christian did in my opinion a fantastic job in presenting this challenging perspective. As I have said, this is not easy since it demands quite a good grasp in many far flung fields. I have a strong feeling that many History Professors would not feel comfortable giving lectures about the big bang or about Plectonic plate dynamics - but he did. His approach seemed much more rigorous than one is accustomed to in history courses. At the beginning of each lecture there is a sort of theorem which we are seeking to validate during the lecture, and at the end we can decide if we have been convinced that the theorem has been proven in a persuasive manner. This is much more the language of the natural Sciences #which is my formal background) than of history, and it was fascinating and refreshing to see this perspective applied in History. I deeply enjoyed the course and felt it gave me a fresh new perspective and insight on things I have never considered before – exactly what I expect to get from a good TGC course.
Date published: 2015-06-10
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Surprisingly Engaging I enjoyed this course a lot. Much more than anticipated. To be honest, I decided to watch this course after learning that Bill Gates loved the course and was funding more academic teaching in this area at universities across the country. As an academic myself, the idea that a wealthy business man would seek to shape the direction of academia rubbed me the wrong way, because Gates is not an expert in history but rather in marketing and technology. Nonetheless, I was curious to see what impressed Bill Gates so much about Professor Christian’s “Big History” approach, so I listened to this course while exercising on the treadmill in my spare time. Despite my skepticism, I'll admit that I enjoyed this course. I also hope that Big History does not eclipse traditional history in college, but see a certain utility in offering such courses at the introductory college level. Professor Christian is a charismatic and engaging lecturer. Nonetheless, as the criticisms of this course reveal, its strength is also its greatest weakness. The entire idea of “big history” omits many important events and sometimes seems overly superficial, because it necessarily brushes over important things in the numerous fields it surveys in an effort to “see the big picture.” For this reason, it makes sense that several reviewers have criticized this course for being “too broad” or even “the least informative of the many Great Courses that I have encountered.” When you’re already knowledgeable about a particular field, this is a normal response to this course. The course is a really broad overview of almost “everything,” from the big bang, to the formation of our galaxy, to the evolution of life on Earth, to the advent of early primates and hominids, to the growth of modern civilization. That was a lot to cover in one course. And yes, as a social scientist, I wanted to protest when Professor Christian defined the modern state in a way that political scientists would patently reject. I’m also hesitant to accept his main theory of “progressive or evolving complexity,” which is merely conjecture and assumes that human beings are indeed “at the center of the universe,” so to speak. Likewise, my colleges and friends who are professors of philosophy and biology had similar reactions to his perfunctory treatment of issues in their fields. Yet while these criticisms make me unlikely to “jump on the bandwagon” of Big History (as a method approaching and analyzing history more broadly), I think that Professor Christian is a great lecturer and I enjoyed his broad overview of fields within which I do not claim expertise. Christian passes by many important developments rather quickly, but I still found it immensely enjoyable. I recommend it for what it is: A broad and often superficial look at “everything” presented by a talented and passionate teacher. That’s what the Great Courses are all about!
Date published: 2015-04-22
Rated 2 out of 5 by from Short on substance The course instructor spends the majority of the time summarizing and re-summarizing sparsely populated, vague pieces of actual course content. Topics are dealt with very superficially. The course does not venture beyond what is likely common knowledge to most curious minded adults.
Date published: 2015-03-25
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