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Teaching Big History

Richard B. Simon (Editor), Mojgan Behmand (Editor), Thomas Burke (Editor)

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Big History is a new field on a grand scale: it tells the story of the universe over time through a diverse range of disciplines that spans cosmology, physics, chemistry, astronomy, geology, evolutionary biology, anthropology, and archaeology, thereby reconciling traditional human history with environmental geography and natural history.

Weaving the myriad threads of evidence-based human knowledge into a master narrative that stretches from the beginning of the universe to the present, the Big History framework helps students make sense of their studies in all disciplines by illuminating the structures that underlie the universe and the connections among them.

Teaching Big History is a powerful analytic and pedagogical resource, and serves as a comprehensive guide for teaching Big History, as well for sharing ideas about the subject and planning a curriculum around it. Readers are also given helpful advice about the administrative and organizational challenges of instituting a general education program constructed around Big History. The book includes teaching materials, examples, and detailed sample exercises.

This book is also an engaging first-hand account of how a group of professors built an entire Big History general education curriculum for first-year students, demonstrating how this thoughtful integration of disciplines exemplifies liberal education at its best and illustrating how teaching and learning this incredible story can be transformative for professors and students alike.
List of Illustrations
List of Tables


1. What Is Big History?—Richard B. Simon
2. Big History and the Goals of Liberal Education—Mojgan Behmand
3. Summer Institutes: Collective Learning as Meta-Education—Thomas Burke
4. Assessing Big History Outcomes: Or, How to Make Assessment Inspiring—Mojgan Behmand
5. Big History at Other Institutions—Mojgan Behmand, Esther Quaedackers, and Seohyung Kim

6. Teaching Complexity in a Big History Context—Richard B. Simon
7. Teaching Threshold 1: The Big Bang—Richard B. Simon
8. Teaching Threshold 2: The Formation of Stars and Galaxies—Kiowa Bower
9. Teaching Threshold 3: Heavier Chemical Elements and the Life Cycle of Stars—Richard B. Simon
10. Teaching Threshold 4: The Formation of Our Solar System and Earth—Neal Wolfe
11. Teaching Threshold 5: The Evolution of Life on Earth—James Cunningham
12. Teaching Threshold 6: The Rise of Homo sapiens—Cynthia Taylor
13. Teaching Threshold 7: The Agrarian Revolution—Martin Anderson
14. Teaching Threshold 8: Modernity and Industrialization—Richard B. Simon
15. Threshold 9? Teaching Possible Futures—Martin Anderson, J. Daniel May, Richard B. Simon, Neal Wolfe, Kiowa Bower, Philip Novak, and Debbie Daunt
16. Reflective Writing in the Big History Course—Jaime Castner
17. Activities for Multiple Thresholds
18. Igniting Critical Curiosity: Fostering Information Literacy through Big History—Ethan Annis, Amy Gilbert, Anne Reid, Suzanne Roybal, and Alan Schut
19. A Little Big History of Big History—Cynthia Stokes Brown

20. Big History at Dominican: An Origin Story—Philip Novak
21. Teaching Big History or Teaching about Big History? Big History and Religion—Harlan Stelmach
22. The Case for Awe—Neal Wolfe


Annotated Bibliography of Big History Texts and Resources
List of Contributors
Richard B. Simon is Adjunct Professor of English at Dominican University of California, instructor of English at City College of San Francisco, and Contributing Editor at Relix magazine.

Mojgan Behmand is Associate Vice President for Academic Affairs at Dominican University of California. She is also Associate Professor of English and former Director of General Education and First Year Experience.

Thomas Burke is Assistant Professor of English and Cultural Studies at Dominican University of California.
"Under Mojgan Behmand’s inspired leadership this large cohort of Dominican teachers have been at the forefront of designing and teaching innovative Big History courses for younger undergraduate university students. I know of no other Big History teachers who have thought about pedagogy and assessment in this field as systematically and rigorously as Behmand, et al."—Craig Benjamin, author of Big History: Between Nothing and Everything

"This book offers a great many illuminating insights into the practice of big history teaching and is an excellent, indispensable resource for all teachers of the thresholds' approach to big history."—Fred Spier, author of Big History and the Future of Humanity

"Rich, diverse and engaging, this is THE book for teachers new to Big History. Teachers at Dominican University tell what they learnt over four years as they collaborated to develop the world’s first foundation program in Big History." —David Christian, author of Maps of Time: An Introduction to Big History, and Director of the Big History Institute, Macquarie University, Sydney

"In the twenty-second century, when Big History is taught in every university around our planet, future scholars of intellectual history detailing the rise of this new vision will begin their story with the faculty at Dominican University. Teaching Big History is both the story of their pedagogical creativity and a how-to handbook filled with their distilled wisdom. For anyone interested in joining this major revolution in education, there is no better guide than their carefully crafted and deeply inspiring book."—Brian Thomas Swimme, coauthor ofThe Journey of the Universe

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