- Introduce big history
- Demonstrate that multi-media presentation can enhance traditional historical narrative
- Argue that big history provides a context to better understand micro history
- Argue that big history, as an overarching paradigm, would serve the profession
Big history: What is it?
The past is enormous. In fact there are 13.7 billion years of it. Vast and irrefutable stores of knowledge about the past is now documented by scholars of varied disciplines.
Bits and pieces of our past can be found in journals and books whose readership is limited and specialized. The biologist reads biology, the archeologist archeology, and the historian reads within his discipline, typically small specialized fragments of recent human history dating back to the advent of writing.
Where is the coherent story?
Enter big history, understated by name. It is a grand narrative of the past. Big history takes the macro-view of history. It examines the past through the widest possible lens.
How wide is the lens?
It is currently over 13,700,000,000 years wide. It necessarily examines the theories and evidence of various disciplines. Together they uncover the underpinnings of a story that had yet to be told; an evidence-based universal history and cosmogony. This pioneering historiographical approach is clearly a break from the norm.
As with any pioneering step in history, it is essential to scrutinize the change considering the traditions of the profession. The essence of Rankean tradition and training avers that, objectivity and evidence based research, is the foundation of historiography.
Big history: What is it good for?
Christian argues that biology, geology, and cosmology are unified and enhanced by their respective paradigms of evolution, plate tectonics, and the Big Bang theory. He argues these provide a context, within which, the individual components of these disciplines are better understood.
Christian argues that an overarching paradigm must encompass all of known time but should not replace other histories. Although he argues that this macro view illuminates novel historical changes, he admits it necessarily obscures details on a smaller scale. (1)
Big history: What will its impact be?
The intention of creating an overarching paradigm is bold. However, it seems to be making some progress.
It remains to be seen whether big history will be accepted as an overarching paradigm that will contextualize history of smaller scales. Zooming in and out of History will attempt to demonstrate this possibility.
Maps of Time is effectively promoting big history as multidisciplinary answer to the universal story of the past. Big history's nterdisciplinary macro approach will make a lasting mark on the field by influencing pedagogy. Maps of Time, David Christian, and big history are attracting a wide range of professors, publishers, and other supporters that all but guarantee an impact on the profession and, perhaps, academia at large.
1. David Christian, Maps of Time: An Introduction to Big History (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2004), 8.