Big History Big History is a field of study that examines history on a large scale across long time frames. The field of Big History examines history from the beginning of time to present day. Coffee is an example of Big History, originating in Ethiopia as early as the 9 th century. Coffee has been grown on five continents and is consumed worldwide today.
The Day The Universe Changed James Burke presents the idea “what you think the universe is depends on what you know” in the film The Way We Are. We have the right to question authority and remove it from power if we don’t like what it is telling us, which is why we change. If any good concept works well, we hang onto it. We institutionalize answers which suit us so they won’t change, even if we do.
The Journey of Man Spencer Wells, a geneticist, has traveled the globe collecting DNA samples from men tracking the Y- chromosome. Y-chromosomes are markers or inherited mutations which can be traced back to a common male, Adam, living in Africa around 60,000 years ago. Wells suggests that the San Bushmen of the Kalahari give us a glimpse of what Adam and his fellow humans might look like.
The Journey of Man Wells traced human migration from Africa through southern Asia to Australia approximately 50,000 years ago. His research found only 10% migrated to Australia while the other 90% migrated through Eurasia. He linked a single man’s DNA from Kazakhstan to Native Americans, Europeans, Asians, Russians, and even some Indians. Wells discovered the Chukchi people of northern Russia migrated over the Bering Strait during the last Ice Age 13,000 years ago and inhabited North America.
Journalist and documentary producer David Keys investigates a major climatic change in the 6th century. He teams up with paleoecologist Michael Baillie to study tree ring grows which become extraordinarily narrow from 535 to 536AD. Keys deduces from sulfur deposits in samples of ice from the Artic and Antarctic that the event was caused by an enormous volcanic eruption. Narrowing his search to volcanoes along the equator, Keys discovers a writing in China of a large bang in February 535AD and uncovers the Krakatau volcano in Indonesia.
Keys and other scholars believe the massive volcanic eruption lowered the Earth’s average temperature and affected civilizations worldwide. The bubonic plague thrived in fleas during the cooler temperatures which was passed to rats and eventually humans. Keys suggests the Roman Empire’s greed for ivory brought the bubonic plague on ships from Africa killing millions and weakening the capital of Constantinople. He proposes the creation of Islam due to the catastrophe by people migrating from Yemen north to Mecca where the prophet Muhammad was born to a well established family who provided to the community during the harsh conditions.
Jared Diamond, professor of Geography and Physiology, sets out to answer the question as to why the world has become so unequal. Diamond met a man named Yali 30 years ago who posed the question “Why you white man have so much cargo, and we New Guineans have so little?” He suggests geology is the most important factor as to why some societies advance while others remain dormant. Evidence of a structure used for storing grain around 11,500 years ago was found in Jordan. Storing food allowed inhabitants to stay in one location and establish a society.
Around 9000 years ago began the first evidence of animal domestication with 14 beasts of burden being able to assist humans with labor. Villages were able to grow bigger with farming becoming more efficient with the assistance of animals allowing specialists to help evolve new technology. Inhabitants in an area of favorable climate known as the Fertile Crescent in Western Asia began spreading their animals and crops along the same latitude creating a population explosion along the way. Diamond learned the answer to Yali’s question was geography, and New Guinea’s agriculture was never productive enough to allow specialists to help advance their society.
The World & Trade During the 14th century, China had become the most powerful empire in the world. The Chinese produced paper, gunpowder, and silk which was very attractive to Europeans. The Muslims controlled the major trade routes from Europe to the East and grew richer with Europe’s desire for spices and goods. Muslims were a triple threat to Christians; religiously, militarily, and economically. Marco Polo’s memoirs of China, who had visited 200 years before Columbus was born, inspired Columbus to explore an alternative route to the Orient.
The World & Trade Horse and cattle brought by the Spanish and Christopher Columbus helped to shape the destiny of America. Horses allowed Indians to hunt more efficiently and helped lead to the extermination of the buffalo. Potatoes discovered by Spanish soldiers in the Peruvian Andes led to Ireland becoming the first place in Europe to live on potatoes. Tobacco grown in the Virginia colonies helped the region survive and it’s sales in London was double that of Spain’s by the early 17th century. Trade from the Old World to the New World grew exponentially creating globalization.