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Lecture: The History of Everything

David Christian thinks big. A leader in the emerging -- and audacious -- field of universal or “big history” -- Christian makes the case for insights gained by weaving a single narrative of all history that begins with the Big Bang and comes up to today. It's a story that connects, well, just about everything.

And one of the people he's convinced is Bill Gates.

Returning to UVM for his third stint as a James Marsh Professor-at-Large, David Christian will speak on Friday, September 23 at 3 p.m., in the John Dewey Lounge, Old Mill, at the University of Vermont. The event is free and open to the public. 

Christian, professor at Macquarie University in Sydney, Australia, is the author of numerous books, including Maps of Time: An Introduction to Big History (University of California Press, 2004). That book, the product of an innovative course that Christian taught for over a decade, has become the foundational text in the field of big history.

His approach weaves evidence and insights from many scientific and historical disciplines into a single story of origin — “one that explores who we are, how we got here, how we are connected to everything around us, and where we may be heading,” notes UVM assistant professor of history Frank Zelko, who is helping to host Christian’s Vermont visit and who applies insights from big history to his own studies of environmental history.

Big history project

Bill Gates, of Microsoft fame, was among those impressed with Christian’s monumental synthesis, and the two of them subsequently founded the Big History Project.

For Gates, whose interest in funding educational ventures is well known, big history represents both a scientific understanding of history and an accessible “gateway” to the study of science. The Big History Project is creating an online course that can be adopted free of charge by high schools around the world. 

Half a dozen high schools in the U.S. and Australia are currently engaged in pilot projects, and more are expected to join soon.

In his lecture, Christian will explain the Big History Project’s social and pedagogical goals, with time for discussion.

If the project proceeds as its founders hope, it will have a significant impact on the way high school students learn history. This will have implications for both high school teachers and college professors. In addition, the project raises some controversial questions about efforts to reform high school curricula by bypassing the usual procedures of public education reform.

For a summary of the big history approach, see David Christian’s recent TED talk:

This story is adapted from material written by Frank Zelko.