A Short History of Big History
The use of all-embracing scientific perspectives for looking at history is not entirely new. In fact, achieving large-scale syntheses of the past was a major aim of eighteenth and nineteenth century naturalists, some of whom can be regarded as the first big historians. In the twentieth century, however, their grand views were replaced by more specialized ways of looking at the past. It was not until the 1980s that big history was reintroduced into academia.
The first cross-disciplinary taught big history course was organized in 1989 by the historian David Christian at Macquarie University, Sydney, Australia. Christian’s approach to big history — he coined the term ‘Big History’ — spread rapidly to the United States, Europe and Russia. In the Netherlands, big history courses have been taught by Fred Spier since 1994 at the University of Amsterdam and since 2003 at the Eindhoven University of Technology. In 2005, an online article about the history of these courses was published. After 2005, more big historians joined Fred Spier in the Netherlands and additional courses have been taught at Amsterdam University College, Erasmus University College and the HOVO departments at the Free University in Amsterdam and Utrecht University.
Currently, big history is rapidly expanding. On August 20, 2010, seven big historians took the initiative to found the International Big History Association (IBHA). Fred Spier was elected as its first Vice President. On April 8, 2011, IBHA was formally incorporated as a nonprofit corporation in the State of Michigan, USA. In August of 2014 Fred Spier succeeded David Christian as IBHA President.
Naturalists Alexander von Humboldt and Aimée Bonpland doing research in the Amazonian rainforest
Big historian David Christian lecturing in the University of Amsterdam big history course in 1996
The founders of the IBHA at the K-T boundary in Gubbio, Italy, in August 2010