Big history

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LITTLE BIG HISTORY ASSIGNMENT

Assignment summary

Write your own little big history (in Dutch or English):

Select a subject or object that you really like.

Find one connection between your choice and a topic discussed in each class mentioned in the assignment form.
Elaborate the three most intriguing connections that you have found between your choice and big history: one connection must come from the history of the non-living world, one from the history of life, and one from human history.

Combine these three elaborations into one single story, discussing the possible links between the three connections that you have found.

Goals of the assignment

The little big history assignment has several goals.

First of all, and most importantly, by linking your subject or object to all of big history, it becomes clear that all its phases can be found in your choice. This enriches your understanding of it, because it is examined from multiple, interdisciplinary, perspectives.

Secondly, the assignment encourages you to come up with new, unusual, ideas. It has long been argued that “all decisive advances in the history of scientific thought can be described in terms of mental cross-fertilization between different disciplines.”1 The discovery of the planets’ movements and the structure of DNA can serve as examples. The astronomer Johannes Keppler allegedly came up with his laws of planetary motion by picturing the Sun, the stars and the dark space in-between them as the Father, Son and the Holy Ghost. And Francis Crick, co-discoverer of the structure of DNA, reported he first came up with the double helix model of DNA after thinking about reproducing sculptures with the aid of plaster molds.2 Big history provides a platform that enables you to think ‘out of the box’ along similar lines; it enables you to connect things to all different disciplines and allows new ideas to emerge from these links. In other words, the little big history assignment challenges you to take advantage of the big history platform and come up with creative, new, ideas.

Thirdly, it helps to bring to life more abstract concepts presented in the course by linking them to a subject or object that is important to you personally.

Assignment in more detail

Select a subject or object that you really like.

You can pick anything that you like. For instance, you can pick subjects like ‘why people wage wars,’ or ‘why people developed democracies,’ or objects like your smartphone or house.

Describe your choice, including your reasons for choosing it, in the form attached below in approximately 100 words.

Connect your choice to a topic discussed in every class.

You must link your choice to one single aspect of the topics discussed in each class that strikes you as interesting. Do not try to connect your choice to all the topics discussed in each class. For instance, you must find connections to one aspect of the origin of the universe, the solar system, the emergence of early humans, etc.

You can connect your subject or object to an aspect of each class in several ways: You can look for processes or circumstances that enabled your subject or object to become the way it is today. You can look for patterns in your subject or object that are or are not similar to patterns described during a class. Let’s assume that your object is your house and that you are trying to link it to a class on the early Universe. You can do so by describing how the fundamental forces that emerged in the early Universe have influenced the construction of your house. And you can also do so by describing why the shapes of the stars that emerged in the early Universe were so different from the shape of your house.

While looking for connections between your subject and an aspect of each class, keep in mind that many of the most interesting ones: Are specific and / or,
Include questions.
For instance, a rather specific description of how gravity...
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