Big Questions in History

This course offers an overview of human history placed within the context of the much longer history of life, the Earth, the solar system and the universe as a whole. This approach to human history is known as Big History. More information on big history can easily be found by surfing the Internet.

Special attention will be paid to the last 10,000 years of human history, when culture took over as the main adaptive mechanism. This period witnessed the worldwide emergence of agriculture as well as the rise of state societies, while during the past five hundred years, globalization, science, industrialization, urbanization and democratization have all contributed to deeply transform human societies. During all the human history lectures we will systematically focus on how humans have been transforming their natural environment. The last lecture will deal with the question of what we may expect from the future.

Our claim is that by looking at human history from a big history perspective, it becomes possible to understand both yourself and the world around you better in a way no other approach to history offers. Furthermore, by contemplating the grand sweep of history simple general theoretical principles emerge which would otherwise have remained unnoticed. These guiding principles will hopefully help you to better understand how everything has become the way it is now, as well as what the future may bring.

The course consists of a series of about 25 lectures, followed by interactive sessions during which students will discuss important points of view and engage in challenging assignments. The required reading consists of one textbook as well as a few seminal articles.

28 August 2012