Big History: David Christian Covers 13.7 Billion Years of History in 18 Minutes

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.

Related Content: 

Free Online History Courses from Great Universities

A Crash Course in World History

The Complete History of the World (and Human Creativity) in 100 Objects

The Podcast History of Our World Will Take You From Creation Myths to (Eventually) the Present Day

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Comments (7)
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  • david gordon says:

    You assume life began 13.7 b yrs ago. Could life be a cyclic phenomena, the last cycle beginning then. Neither how life began nor if it was before 13.7 B yrs ago can I answer nor speculate. Maybe you can offer me an answer. Your quick history was excellent. You might note that our 50 or 100 years here are a mere spec or grain of sand in a quite vast ocean, and universe.

  • bruce hyman says:

    how long would it take a creationist to cover the 5000 years of global history from that perspective?

  • Charles O. Slavens says:

    The hubris that these conclusions are based upon is mind-boggling. Here we are, a primative tribe of hairy little apes who, less than a hundred thousand years ago, climbed down from the trees, stood upright and looked over the tops of the grass.nnGiven our primitive state in the evolutionary process, and our inability to see beyond our technical limitations, is it not a tad presumptuous to state that what we gaze out upon is not “the” universe? Would it not be more accurate to say it is our “local” universe?nnUnfortunately Homo Saipan’s awareness is limited by its flawed ability to perceive beyond its painfully limited horizons. Our specie’s perceptions are clouded by imperfections in our ability to separate the apparent from the real.

  • Teresa says:

    No such thing as big bang (1927 LaMaitre), never accepted (Einstein) and then disproved 30 years ago in 1985 (LaViolette). No black holes (UNC, Hawkin, LaViolette, et al.). No missing link. A comet did not cause the extinctions (65M year cycle north end behind Virgo Cluster). First AND Second laws of thermodynamics have been disproved. His Physics, astronomy, chemistry, etc. is wrong and so is every other assumption. My 13 year old knows more. Has he read a book in the past 25 years? Has David ever heard of fact checking? I felt he was relying heavily on his 4th grade science class.

    I did a little background check, took less than 18 seconds. Funded by Bill Gates. David either has incredibly bad information and/or is an incredibly bad judge of character. Either way, we suffer.

  • RedDingo says:

    You should have given it 36 seconds, as your assumption on Black Holes (in the very least) is incorrect. What Hawking meant was that our original conception of ‘black holes’ may not exist. You owe you existence to them, as without this phenomenon our galaxy wouldn’t exist… These are theories. The Big Bang Theory. The counter-theories. All are theories. And scholars like Christian (or anyone) can hardly produce a solid body of work without choosing a theory that resonates with their research.

    Just because one or two scholars present an alternate theory to the big bang that seems just as plausible, it doesn’t mean every other theory is now wrong. It doesn’t work like that- not until hard, solid evidence confirms it as fact. Just be wary. Slamming scholars based on your top five google searches is kinda uncool, and indicates a lack of wide reading/understanding of theory and scientific procedure and the nature of scholarly debate.

    The point of Christian’s work is not to enforce the big bang or hinge on what started it all, but to explore the universe as a historical concept of phases. The concept would remain intact even without a ‘big bang’. It’s just about the building of complexity from the simpler early universe to today.

    So what if Bill Gates funds it. The people we vote for fund wars, at least he is doing something useful. And I don’t even like the guy hehe.

    further reading on what Hawking actually meant. check it out! I’m not trying to antagonise you, just offering a wider perspective on a highly debatable subject which could’ve been awarded a few more seconds research.

  • RedDingo says:

    hehehe how quickly can you say ‘good morning children, you’re all going to hell’ ?

  • Robert Cranston says:

    I shall however continue in my faith that all the things that happen in this world are caused by sprites and goblins.

    And that when I die I shall go to live in a tropical paradise. With Alyson Hannigan.

    And everyone I hate will go to an abandoned dumpster behind a Chinese restaurant. In New Jersey.

    That is my belief.

    Follow me. Light a candle, make a wish.


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