Big History By, Tiffany Allen Prof. Michael Arguello History 140
Big History is the study of all of history, from the Big Bang forward to today. But, what is more pertinent to us is the study of human history. From the beginning of humans to the first migrations and how we came to be what and where we are today. Through catastrophic events and encounters, and all the hardships humans have had to face from their environments and each other. What has made us what we are?
People have evolved, like any other animal, out of necessity. We take the circumstances we are given and adapt to them as needed for a successful life. People have moved from place to place, invented tools and the wheel, and discovered how to control fire so that we could live better and take care of ourselves more efficiently. “The Way We Are” addresses this ingenuity and acknowledges the achievements of people from the beginning of time to the present. It also addresses how we have learned to cope with the changes we have brought upon ourselves by using cultural and religious themes to conserve ways of life that we would otherwise lose to technology. “The Way We Are” is a modern day view of Big History as it pertains to people and our current situation.
In relation to the theme of human migration, Spencer Wells, a geneticist, has studied the DNA of people from all over the world and tracked the paths of human migration. From the beginnings of human life in Africa, Wells traced our ancient ancestors through India and into Australia. He also traced them from Africa through central Asia, into Northern Asia, through the Bering Strait and into North America, and into Western Europe from Africa. We can now, because of Wells’ research trace all of human genetic history back to our original roots in Africa. In the documentary this proved hard for some cultures to swallow because of their ancestral and religious beliefs of being created in the place they now live by a creator. The Journey of Man proves to be a conflicting historical subject because of evidence provided by science and human tradition.
About 1500 years ago, something happened to disturb civilizations around the world. An Ice Age was created by a volcanic eruption that threw the world into darkness and began the Dark Ages. Tree rings and ice cores from sites around the globe have shown evidence of this major volcanic eruption. Historical accounts of plagues from around the world support the idea that something major and on a world-wide scale happened at that time. This interruption in the course of human life forever changed civilizations around the world with the sudden onset of colder weather, drought, famine and plagues of insects and disease.
The premise of this subject is to identify why some groups of humans have become more productive or richer than others. It appears, at first, that this is because of the development of farming. It is then believed that what was being farmed was the reason for the rift between development of groups of humans. Crops that were high in protein were being farmed by the groups that evolved further. While protein rich crops helped give middle eastern tribes a head start, it was the groups of people who farmed animals that progressed to the next level of civilization. These animals helped to supplement the protein needed to sustain large populations. It was discovered that the geography and raw materials available to these early people were the reason for the gap in their development.
After the rift in human development has been formed, cultures that split apart hundreds or even thousands of years before come into contact with one another again. The Spanish are coming to South America in search of new lands and encounter the Incas. The 168 Spanish soldiers killed over 7,000 members of the Incan Imperial Army in one day. What their advantage was and the reason behind it are examined in this next episode of “Guns, Germs and Steel”. One of the first advantages the Spanish and other Europeans had was draft animals used to help produce more of the high protein crops needed to sustain large populations. These animals also provided essential supplements like milk, leather and hides for clothing, and eventually transportation in the form of horses. Another advantage they had were guns. Their guns were very crude still, but allowed them an advantage over the Incas, none the less. Swords also were a more advanced weapon than anything the Inca had. They were made from steel, which was not available in South America.
The Spanish had another, extremely important, advantage: writing. The writings that the Spanish had at their disposal helped them by keeping account of previous battles and strategies for fighting wars. The Spanish were skilled, practiced soldiers, with centuries of experience behind them that they had at their disposal to learn from. Unrelated to this initial battle with the Spanish, was an outbreak of smallpox brought to the Americas on a slave ship twelve years before this encounter. The disease had been brought by one person who was showing only the first signs of fever on his trip from Europe. These diseases were especially dangerous for Americans because they had never encountered them before. For Europeans who had encountered them before and passed on their genetic resistance to previously encountered diseases, these outbreaks were not as dangerous.
In the 15th century, the world had been explored to its full extent; or so the Europeans thought. They had planned to find a sea route to Asia to open new trade routes and cut out the Muslim middlemen they currently had to trade with. Asia had all the resources it needed, and had no interest in venturing out of its own borders, but was the only empire with a real means to conquer the sea. Trade was rich in the Middle East, but with the Christian-Muslim hostility, Europeans did not want to continue to feed their success in the trade routes. So, Columbus ventured out to find his “shortcut” trade route to India to cut out the Muslims. The readings in this section address the history of trade in all civilizations and how the world had one trading economy between them all. The valuable commodities that were being traded were: coffee, tea, cocoa, tobacco, sugar and potatoes. As well as some premium goods like silk from China when people could get their hands on them. The importance of trade as a world economy has been ever present, since humans first came back into contact with each other, and will continue to be as important as long as we exist.