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 201.
Rated 2 out of 5 by from Too Little of Everything This is the least informative of the many Great Courses that I have encountered. Anyone with even a rudimentary knowledge of the universe, including the solar system and our earth will take little from this course. The title ‘Big History: The Big Bang, Life on Earth and Rise of Humanity’ is an undertaking that cannot be accomplished in 48 lectures. As the title implies it is an attempt to cover, at least, astronomy, biology, chemistry, geology, genetics, physics, political science and perhaps more. None of which are covered in sufficient detail to provide an enlightening course. Moreover, I doubt that any one person is capable doing justice to such an array of disciplines. Throughout his lectures Christian invokes ‘Big History’ as if he is providing the audience with something new to digest. His six lectures on the role of agriculture are good although they have little to do with the title of the course. Christian begins each lecture by summarizing what the last lecture covered, then tells what is to be covered before beginning the lecture, and ends each lecture with a summary. This format would be belittling to the college students with which I am accustomed. I would not recommend this course to anyone, certainly not as a college level course. ‘ Other courses I suggest See for example The Origin and Evolution of Earth: From the Big Bang to the Future of Human Existence by Robert Hazen or Cosmology: The History and Nature of Our Universe by Mark Whittle
Date published: 2015-03-20
Rated 5 out of 5 by from A Classic Approach to a Novel Topic At first I was a bit dubious about the "Big History" notion. I thought it was just a means of amalgamating a group of seemingly time-related topics in a superficial fashion, without any significant new insights to be gleaned. Well sure, the nature of the Big Bang / Big Inflation event certainly has a lot to do with the evolution of the galaxies and stars; and the earth's geography no doubt influenced the course of human history. But what, for example, could the emergence of quantum particles and eventually atoms from the "primal soup" have to do with the development of agrarian societies and industrialized civilization here on Planet Earth? Despite my doubts, however, I decided to give this course a listen. Even if Big History seemed at first like a rag-bag assortment from a variety of disciplines, all of those disciplines were of interest to me. So now I'm glad that I did. Professor Christian really pulls this course off. He indeed will inspire you to think in ways and on scales that might not be immediately obvious given the usual academic taxonomies. And he inspires you to do it in both directions -- both looking back, and looking into the future. I'm not going to offer a detailed review here, as I do not take issue with most of what Professor Christian says and presents. He generally fulfills the goal of identifying "big history" trends over the course of time, for example the underlying growth of complexity, energy concentration, and information accumulation. My biggest complaint would only be that there wasn't enough time to develop and elucidate further human history themes such as the origins and evolution of organized warfare. Despite the rush to get through billions of years of cosmological history, along with eons of earth history and the various ages of human history, most of the scientific topics were adequately handled. In fact, for me this was a rather good review on the dynamics of our planet's formation, including how the continents and oceans and atmosphere evolved. It was also a nice catch-up on modern thought regarding how life came about, and how the modern human species developed over many hundreds of thousands of years. As to "history" in the usual sense, don't expect much in terms of a classical approach to recorded events over the past 10,000 years; most of it goes by in a blur, as empires rise and fall in the blink of an eye. What's important are the major transitions from hunter-gatherer tribes to agrarian villages and then states, as expanding trade and on-going technology development lay the foundations for the eventual emergence of industrial civilization. Overall, though, this course works as well as it does in large part due to the skills and qualities of its presenter, Professor David Christian. I might take issue with some of his side-bars implying that modern scientific knowledge has done away with the need for any and all theistic speculations regarding the ultimate origins and nature of the universe; perhaps that is where big history gets a bit too big. (And yes, this is an interesting irony given his last name; although to be taken seriously in academia today, it seems as though you almost have to be a committed atheist). But overall, Professor Christian is the classic scholar, a stellar example of what I have come to expect from the Teaching Company after obtaining and enjoying over 20 of their courses. Well, mostly enjoying them. I recently purchased and listened to what I found to be a very disappointing TTC course. I hope to submit a review about that one in the near future. However, let me say here that the course in question failed not because of the topic or material. Its failure stemmed, in my opinion, from the unorthodox and (to me) unedifying approach that the professor took in organizing and presenting his materials, and the fashion in which he asserted certain questionable propositions in support of his contentions (while carefully dissecting arguably defensible ideas that opposed his own predilections). More on that at another time, but let me note that the referred-to course is similar to Christian's Big History in that it is grounded in a "liberal arts" tradition, but needs to make frequent reference to modern scientific knowledge and theories. Professor Christian was usually quite careful to accurately present the science required by the sweeping panorama behind big history (one reviewer notes that Christian asserts the once accepted notion that Neanderthals and modern humans did not mate, while more recent DNA research indicates that they did; in fact, according to, my own genes are about 3 percent Neanderthal!). The other professor by contrast said things that left me uncertain about his competency to elucidate such topics. In fact, that course was the inspiration for me to write and submit this review. I had finished Big History a number of months ago, and while I enjoyed it and while it certainly did inspire a measure of "big thinking" on my own part, I didn't believe that I had anything significant to say about it on this web site. But after slogging through Professor X's various attempts to mix scholarship and entertainment, I realized what a resource careful scholars such as David Christian and his like truly are. Thus I felt the need to offer this tribute to his work, and to express my hope that the Teaching Company will continue to focus on high-quality classic scholars, even if their lectures and presentments aren't necessarily as entertaining as a sci-fi action movie or a cable-channel drama.
Date published: 2015-03-10
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Practice makes Perfect Unlike some Great Courses selections, this one is closely based on an actual, college-level course that was developed by Professor Christian and given previously many times. It shows in the exceptionally good organization of the material , the clear presentation, and the examples used. The use of multiple time scales to illustrate the different events and concepts was especially useful. So many different disciplines are covered (cosmology, chemistry, geology, biology, anthropology, ancient/modern history) that there should be something new for every student. I would especially recommend this for an advanced high school student who was considering a scientific field of study in college.
Date published: 2015-03-04
Rated 2 out of 5 by from Historical Overbite On the face of it, Big History, the Big Bang, Life on Earth, and the Rise of Humanity is an ambitious attempt to show the evolution and development of everything - from the Big Bang theory of the creation of the universe to the evolution and development of humanity - and everything in between. But unfortunately this a case in which the course material and the lecturer suffer from a severe case of overbite - so much material is covered that none is given justice. To paraphrase the poet Robert Browning, It's a case in which the course's reach definitely exceeds its grasp, and it's not a good thing. I do not understand the concept behind developing a multidisciplinary course that covers, at a minimum, astronomy, physics, chemistry, biology, geology, earth sciences, genetics, paleoanthropology, agriculture, and political science in 48 lectures. With the exception of the inordinate number of lectures given to the topics of agriculture and agrarian societies, no topic is covered in any great detail. Audiovisual aids are scarce and minimalist in content. The course was first developed in 2008 and it shows it's age in several spots. The lectures on human evolution make no mention of the discovery of the close genetic relationship between humans and Neandertals; the discovery of the Denisovans and the archaic Hobbits of Southeast Asia. Modern concepts in cosmology including the Higgs Boson and String Theory are not mentioned. It doesn't help things that the professor lectures in a droll monotone. More than once I found myself dozing off watching Professor Christian drone on while discussing a topic that could be dispatched in half the time. I knew I was losing interest when I started to find other things to do while I watched - or half listened - to the lectures. Christian's lecturing style follows the dictum: "Tell them what you're going to say, say it to them, and then remind them what you just told them." And then remind them just how important Big History is. That's fine advice for how to give a PowerPoint presentation, but not over 48 thirty minute lectures. Unfortunately I have very few takeaways from this course and cannot recommend it to anyone with a well-rounded educational background.
Date published: 2015-03-04
Rated 5 out of 5 by from I have 25-30 of the Great Courses course's and this one - "Big History" - is probably the best that I've listened to so far. The content is excellent and the professor is above excellent. He's funny, engaging, down to earth and covers 5 billion years of history without feeling like you've missed anything important! This course is one I'd recommend above nearly all others.
Date published: 2015-02-10
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Another Great Course I learned of this lecture series when I sent an email to Craig Benjamin, the professor who did the course "Foundations of Eastern Civilization" (which itself was terrific). I had sent the email to Dr. Benjamin because I was so impressed and enjoyed so much his course that I wanted to personally thank him. He suggested this course to me -he is a colleague of Dr. Christian. I was not disappointed. This course starts at the beginning--the "real" beginning, the Big Bang, and moves in a detailed summary through the present. His lectures were stimulating; his subject matter contemporary and the information up to date. I would recommend this course to those interested in a much broader historical perspective than I've seen anywhere else.
Date published: 2015-02-07
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Excellent Integration of Science Disciplines This course is very good at integrating the separate disciplines of Astrophysics, Astronomy, Geology, Biology, Geography, and History. I was a bit disappointed the contribution of Dr. J. Tuzo Wilson to our understanding of plate tectonics was not mentioned.
Date published: 2015-01-24
Rated 5 out of 5 by from A Revolutionary Approach to History. I have just finished the 48 lectures on BIG HISTORY by Professor David Christian, and I am simply in awe. Although a Nuclear Medicine Physician by training, I have taught in four faculties at our local university including in Physics and Neurosciences and as a teacher I was spell bound by his teaching technique and ability. I also have been taking lectures from the Great Courses series for at least 30 years. Although all of the lecturers I have had the pleasure of listening to were outstanding in their own way, Professor Christian is in a class all his own and quite simply is the most profoundly talented and informed lecturer I have ever listened to. But most important for me personally was the final moments of his last lecture. As a person who for some reason seems to have been born an atheist in spite of the best efforts of my mother and my Sunday school teacher, I must admit that searching for some sense of meaning and purpose in life has at times been challenging. Yet Professor Christian’s thoughts on the possible meanings and purposes for our extraordinary place in the universe, I found emotionally moving and powerfully meaningful. Thank you Professor Christian.
Date published: 2015-01-24
Rated 4 out of 5 by from A vast perspective of history It is some time since I watched this course in its entirety, but I have gone back repeatedly to individual lectures. I found the cosmological and geological aspects of history, and the evidence supporting this narrative fascinating. The evolution of transnational trading systems and the using the measure of 'energy use' to compare different systems unique and enlightening. Anyone interested in studying history on a vast scale will gain a great deal from these lectures.
Date published: 2015-01-22
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Big History I appreciate any class that opens my mind to different perspectives, and this class does that in spades.
Date published: 2015-01-17
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Big History- Professor David Christian I have purchased numerous courses from TC. This one ranks right up there for as good as it gets. Professor Christian takes a fairly complex subject and makes it very understandable AND interesting. I am shocked at how much I did not know based on how many advances science has made since I was in school. I am having a hard time doing anything else but listen to this course right now. Professor Christian- you have caused problems with my wife!
Date published: 2014-12-27
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Surprisingly Wonderful; Recommended for Everyone! I've ignored this course since it came out in 2008 because the idea of one person covering everything from the Big Bang and galaxy formation to contemporary society and global warming seemed absurd on its face. I decided I'd better watch it when I read that Bill Gates was teaming up with our professor to push the introduction of Big History into high schools - only so that I might be prepared to fight this silliness if it ever came to my district. Really. Instead, I have been converted into a Big History cheerleader, and would encourage every high school in the country (actually, in the world) to teach Big History as its required freshman history course, and would encourage every college to offer it as well for those who missed it earlier. Let's be clear. Big History is emphatically *not*, despite the hyperbole of TGC's course description, "the history of everything." As Professor Christian points out appropriately, this is an overview from a great height, and will necessarily miss many, many details which would be essential to more traditional, more focused courses. Even more importantly: while the course remarkably does, as advertised, include and beautifully tie together in this broad panorama the fields of "cosmology, geology, anthropology, biology, and history," it is crucial to notice what is missing - pretty much all of the humanities other than history: art, literature, music, the study of religion, and philosophy. This is not a criticism! Just an important point. (And of course, all of these fields deserve to be studied as much as Big History. They treat different but at least equally important aspects of human experience.) Now, why (imho) should every human being learn Big History? For a number of reasons: - Every field covered is worth learning, at least at a basic level, even as an isolated area, purely for its own sake. They are all fascinating. - Anyone who wishes to function as a thoughtful and self-directed individual, and with understanding, in the modern world needs this information to do so. - Big History shows how these many disciplines, typically thought of as separate, self-contained fields, relate in many and important ways to each other. This gives deeper insight into all of them, and provides students who have a natural focus on only one or two areas with a motivation to learn something about, and to appreciate, the others. This is perhaps Professor Christian's most remarkable and impressive accomplishment. - If people throughout the world had this shared understanding of our common history, in the broad sense covered, this would potentially provide a shared basis for greater mutual understanding and respect, despite our differences. (Note: I am by nature a skeptic and a cynic. But I really believe this particular bit of naive idealism. The more we share with "the other", the less "other" they become.) Almost forgot to mention - Professor Christian is terrific, one of the best. He speaks beautifully and with simple eloquence; his joy in teaching is ever present; he is able to transmit his sense of the importance of his subject; he is preternaturally well-organized; and he actually has done the preparatory work to know what he is talking about. Also, very importantly, he consistently reminds us of the sources and limitations of our knowledge. The visuals are plentiful and mostly relevant and helpful. And the course guidebook is excellent, with brief but pertinent summaries of each lecture. There are several timelines, a glossary, and an extensive annotated bibliography. So - I'm not kidding: this course has my highest recommendation for everyone, everywhere. Depending on your background, some of it will be review, some will be new, but the connections and related insights, and the emergent properties of the whole, are wonderfully worthwhile. And I am completely in favor of promoting this as the introductory course in history for all students, whether at the high school or college level. Take it, appreciate, and enjoy.
Date published: 2014-12-07
Rated 5 out of 5 by from The History of Everything An excellent dissertation on the history of everything from the beginning until now. It incorporates all disciplines. I have a new perspective about how the universe has gone from simplicity to complexity consistently since the beginning of time... be it the coalescing of matter to form the stars and planets, the development of agrarian civilizations, or the complex industrial and scientific systems that exist today.
Date published: 2014-12-03
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Informative and stimulating course I read about this course in the NY Times. Bill Gates was interested in it. That piqued my curiosity. I am glad it did. The course brought together a lot of information I had learned through the years. But mainly it broadened my appreciation of my place in the universe. I am a believer in God. I found this scientific description of how everything came about expanded my appreciation of God's design for humanity. The professor stayed with science and did not move into philosophy or theology. I think that is the reason why I liked it so much and would recommend it to fellow believers.
Date published: 2014-11-28
Rated 4 out of 5 by from So far so good............. So far so good.......My son and I are through the first disc of "Big History." We are still adapting to alternative media vis-à-vis the (traditional) classroom for presentation of didactic academic material; additionally we are still adjusting to Professor Christian's affectations and idiosyncrasies during classroom instruction. So far so good..........the material is boggling in its' scope and really gives one an idea of how they actually fit in the grandest of schemes. Will update as appropriate.
Date published: 2014-11-25
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Difficult material but clearly presented The professor works hard and effectively to try to make the material understandable -- using excellent analogies. The material itself is necessarily hard to grasp for someone with a limited background in the physical sciences.
Date published: 2014-11-23
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Masterful Like an expert boxer, Mr. Christian circles the skeptic, weakening his opponent with a broad approach and calculated wit that anticipates each rebuttal, before he closes in and finishes the match with hard evidence to support a scientific perspective. An illuminating series, every lecture was time well spent.
Date published: 2014-11-21
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Big History This course totally exceeded expectations. Very informative, easy to understand. Multiple aha moments! Yes, I finally get it!!! Love how the professor presented the ideas. It's like being in a lecture hall once again, only this time I'm right in front, always on time and most of all eager to learn. Kudos to TGC for offering this course and thank you Prof. Christian.
Date published: 2014-11-12
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Big History Well done with the exception of his apparent compelling need to discuss gender issues such as "why" '[ woman were not as powerful (rulers) as men thru most of history, which as with most so called professro's is not balanced. For example, could it be that these roles evolved naturally? Men "hunt" for food, which takes different physical capabilities and therefore evolve to lead groups? No eat - no people...could it be that simple? example is pro sports today such as rugby or football pro's? Why are they separate, men play, men coach....while there is a seperate sports teams for women...., etc, etc.............. This professor should stick to the facts and a lot less time sharing his opinion regarding the "power" of men vs women!....And the course would be much improved!!!
Date published: 2014-11-01
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Great Professor, Great Course This is one of the best courses I have ever heard. I followed in the audio version, The thread of the narrative, content and teaching allowed me to follow him to the end. EXCELLENT
Date published: 2014-10-31
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Big History, big interesting, big value! I am only about halfway through this course, but I love it. I listen while I work out or walk and I look forward to each lecture. Some of the early stuff - cosmology, chemistry of life - was a bit over my head, but the professor managed to make it so I could understand it at the moment, even if I couldn't really retain all he said. Now I am into human history and I can understand better. The professor is very articulate and erudite but relaxed, friendly, entertaining, down-to-earth. It is a big time commitment, but well worth making, in my view. I had read about this course in the press and was delighted that Great Courses made it available. So - highly recommended.
Date published: 2014-10-26
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Don't let Big History pass you by The Big History series is phenomenal. I originally read about the series from an article in the Wall Street Journal. LIstening to the lectures as they tie in the beginning of the universe, the creation of our galaxy and solar system, with biology, physics and the evolution of man triggers nothing but awe. Getting a comprehensive understanding of how we came to be what we are as humans and how the world around us developed is numbingly inspiring. This should be a mandatory course for every high school and university student. Well done.
Date published: 2014-10-24
Rated 4 out of 5 by from A fine history of the universe...and of us A giant review of history---starting before the Big Bang---in digestible, understandable and fascinating pieces.
Date published: 2014-10-16
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Big History Great Course no pun intended. All should sign up. Provides a realistic yet unusual presentation of history on earth, particularly of the human. Quite credible and extensive threading the key drivers of how the planet earth and we got to where we are. Even the predictions of the future seemingly plausible and noted by Prof. Christian, as largely "educated" guessing were helpful in getting one's head around where are we headed. George Mauer
Date published: 2014-10-15
Rated 5 out of 5 by from An absolute must! This series is the best set of lectures I have ever seen. Not only is the material fascinating and important, it is also beautifully presented by an absolute master! David Christian is quite simply the best there is! He has managed to take an extraordinary array of material and make it wonderfully accessible. The entire approach in this series represents a complex amalgam of disciplines into a coherent and integrated package. I hope that a lot of young people will take this journey in Big History before they settle down to whatever particular interest attracts them.
Date published: 2014-10-15
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Big History I bought the course on a recommendation from Bill Gates who was quoted in our local paper. He was right, it is a fascinating take on history. Well worth the time and very engaging. The presentation is excellent, one of the best I have heard. We go from what is knowledge to how the universe was formed, how stars, elements and planets were formed; the nature and effect of The last few milliseconds of the history of the universe in terms of relative time is occupied by homo sapiens. We learn where we came from, how we evolved, the nature of power...and that is as far as I have gotten. It is expensive and I think it is supposed to come with written material, but I haven't seen any of that, just the audio.
Date published: 2014-10-15
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Reveletory Fantastic. Profound. Straightforward and unifying. Reveals an expansive perspective of our place in time and space as I've never understood before. Can't say enough good things about how this course has opened my eyes.
Date published: 2014-10-15
Rated 3 out of 5 by from 20th century shocker I had been enjoying this lecture series, finding it enlightening in areas with which I am unfamiliar. And a Big History perspective is an interesting one. But then I got to the lecture on the 20th century, something with which I am somewhat familiar. I was floored by this professor's flawed interpretation of the economic changes that occurred during this period, specifically those involving the relationships between businesses and their wage earners. The question he addresses is why did living standards rise among workers as industrialization proceeded, contrary to the predictions of Marx. Here Professor Christian offers a preposterous answer. The owners of businesses, he argues, realized that they needed consumers for their products so they raised wages to create consumers. This is illogical on the face of it, but first it needs to be emphasized that it is historically inaccurate. Professor Christian totally leaves and mention of the huge impact of the labor movement - of the sit-down strikes and business takeovers, of the disruptions and disorder created by the labor movement, of the mobilization of political power by unions, and of the real threat of communism in the early 20th century as an alternative to be looked at among wage earners. Any study history shows that it these factors which produced an incentive for businesses to make accommodations in order to bring about labor peace. Thus, in the end, it was indeed in the interest of businesses to raise the living standards of their workers, but only under threat. But not only a study history, but a look at contemporary economic developments refutes the thesis that businesses will raise the wages and benefits of workers to create more customers for their products. The opposite is happening now, even though corporations have been making record profits since the late 20th century and have huge balance sheets while forcing wage and benefit concessions from workers. Moreover, business groups have been fighting to limit unemployment benefits, minimum wage increases, etc. - all things Professor Christian suggests that these groups favored. Business groups are each acting in their self-interest with the lack of threat posed by labor unions, an external communist alternative, etc. - to maximize their profits. This is what businesses do and should be expected to do. Bottom line - the total lack of mention of the labor movement, or of other social movements in the 20th century, and instead the alternative naive and historically flawed analysis provided by Professor Christian creates questions now in my mind about his take on other areas of Big History. (PS - No wonder Bill Gates likes this course and wants it promoted in the schools.)
Date published: 2014-10-15
Rated 4 out of 5 by from My reaction to “Big History” is frankly somewhat mixed. Hence, the rating of four stars on balance seems appropriate. 1. The very general concept and the eight thresholds and their relative length present a most enlightening perspective. I feel I already very generally knew the contents of the course and already knew some parts of it in substantial detail, but I had not drawn many of the major connections among the various parts. Perhaps the biggest contribution made by the course for me was the general perspective. I will not think of History in quite the same way ever again -- 5 stars on this score. 2. The initial lectures on cosmology, star and planetary formation and the geological ages of the Earth were competent and relatively efficient. Choices needed to be made about the detail of the coverage and they were intelligently made. It was once over lightly but not at all bad for a nonscientist. So, 5 stars again. 3. The course fell down in the presentation on Life. Professor Christian correctly gave a Darwinian account and acknowledged the incompleteness of the Darwinian account on the very detailed level- nothing else is intellectually admissible. But the substance was not as clear as it should have been. As one example, his discussion of prokaryotic and eukaryotic life and the link between them was by no means as crisp as it could and should have been. So, 4 stars here 4. The discussion of the Paleolithic and especially the Agrarian eras was a chore to get through. First he told you at length what was going to tell you, then he told you, then he summarized repetitively what he told you and then in the next lecture he went over again what he told you by way of introduction. Then he might adduce evidence for what he had previously told you in ways that sometimes added very little of real support. So, 2 stars on this score 5. The discussion of the later Agrarian era contained lapses. As one example, he introduced the city at Lake Tenochtitlan without telling you until much later that the inhabitants were Aztec and then later he referred to the city as being inhabited by the Mexica people without noting that Mexica is another name for Aztec. In general the agrarian discussion could have benefited from some solid editing. 6. I very much liked the non Eurocentric orientation of the course and its emphasis on the importance of capitalism. I thought that the identification of the theme concerning the tension among population growth, exploitation of resources and the adverse effects on the biosphere was spot on. 7. The course is dated 2008. There have been developments that I think will require updating before long
Date published: 2014-10-11
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Big History is great The course is brilliant. I'm really enjoying the broad sweep of history. Very integrative. My own background is in math and physics, so I am enjoying the overview of cosmology, and evolutionary theory.
Date published: 2014-10-10
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