Big History with Craig Benjamin

It is not uncommon for professors to invite guest speakers to their classes to help provide specialized expertise to the classroom experience.  Dr. Alves took advantage of this precedent when he invited Dr. Craig Benjamin to speak to his HIST 445: History and Historians class and Dr. Drake Brown’s SS 395: Teaching SS in Secondary Schools class to answer their questions on the study of “Big History”.  The class listened to Dr. Benjamin’s lecture and then proceeded to ask him in-depth questions about how the study of Big History could be used in their future careers.  What made this experience unique was that Dr. Benjamin remained in Grand Rapids, MI at Grand Valley State University and was able to interact with the students through video conferencing.  The presentation was Craig Benjaminengaging, interactive, and live as Dr. Alves utilized technology to provide this opportunity to students at Ball State.

The study of Big History is an attempt by some historians to create a broader study of history outside the silos that narrow specializations can create.  It begins the study of history at the Big Bang and constructs where humans fall into creation with the most up-to-date understanding through a multi-disciplinary perspective.  Small-scale history can create situations where the connections between people, places, and events are lost, while “Big History” historians seek to re-connect the intricacies of history.

In the United States, Bill Gates was so impressed with the ramifications of “Big History” that he has funded a free, open, and online classroom for high school students to be able study the concepts prevalent in “Big History”.  The Big History Project also provides teachers with resources to help them with”Big History” in the classroom.

The ultimate goals of “Big History” includes refocusing from national/regional histories to a world history perspective.  At times this change conflicts with the national agendas of the country of origin.  For example, discussing the Korean comfort women as a Japanese citizen is strictly taboo.  Which brings up another goal of “Big History” which is to provide a non-biased analysis of historical events.  Finally,”Big History” usually requires a strong collaboration between the sciences and humanities to bring together not just historical and cultural knowledge with the science of evolution and biology, among others.

Dr. Alves will be teaching History 623: Topics in World History, The new natural history: Big history, deep history for graduate students this spring.

Big History Book“Big History and Deep History are new methodologies contributing to the world history of the twenty-first century. Starting its explorations with the Big Bang some 13.8 billion years ago, “Big History” studies human agriculture in the light of the sun’s role in photosynthesis and the agricultural practices of leaf-cutter ants. If humans are not different in kind from other animals, how can we see our human cultures as substantially different from each other? “Deep History,” focused on the evolutionary process, asks what neuroscience and our own hominin prehistory can tell us about historical events and patterns.

Readings will include David Christian’s Maps of Time and Daniel Lord Smail’s and Andrew Shryock’s Deep History. Historical questions like imperialism, gender construction, classes, estates and the role of nonhuman animals in human history will then be explored through other readings, including primarysource materials.”

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