Perhaps you noticed? During the past two years, the TED brand has morphed into something new. Once known for staging a couple of high-priced annual conferences, TED has recently launched a series of new products: TEDx conferences for the masses, TED Books, TED Radio, TED ED and Ads Worth Spreading. In the wake of all of this, some have questioned whether TED has grown too quickly, or to put it more colloquially, “jumped the shark.” There are days when TED feels like a victim of its own success. But there are other days — especially when it returns to its roots — where the organization can still be a vital force. That happens whenever TED wraps up its big annual conference, as it did two weeks ago, and puts some noteworthy talks online. (See, for example, Stewart Brand describing how scientists will bring extinct species back from the dead.) Or it happens when TED brings older talks from its archive to YouTube.
Which brings us to the talk above. Here we have David Christian, a professor at Australia’s Macquarie University, explaining the history of the world in less than 18 minutes, starting with the Big Bang and then covering another 13.7 billion years. Formally trained as a Russian historian, Christian began working on Big History in the 1980s, a meta discipline that “examines long time frames using a multidisciplinary approach based on combining numerous disciplines from science and the humanities.” Christian then popularized his newfangled way of telling history when he produced for the Teaching Company: Big History: The Big Bang, Life on Earth, and the Rise of Humanity. It didn’t hurt that Bill Gates stumbled upon the lectures and gave backing to The Big History Project, an online initiative that experiments with bringing Big History to high school students. The Big History Project got its start at the 2011 TED conference, with the talk presented above.