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Darwin Day 2012

Big History

Fred Spier  historian

Everyone who has told a good story knows how hard it is to decide where to start. Any segment of human history contains its own "prehistory" of factors and events which has consequences for our narrative. So where should history begin? With the ancient Greek? With the Neolithic? With evolution of Homo in Africa, or of mammals?

Why not start with the only single beginning? Excluding for the moment other possible universes, everything goes back the ultimate start of it all: the Big Bang. Historians across the world joined forces in 2010 in the International Big History Association to promote the unified and interdisciplinary study and teaching of the history of Cosmos, Earth, Life, and Humanity. In doing so, they aim to explain how everything is connected in the past. However, the approach is also an arena to show how all academic disciplines are connected.

The questions we raise for the Darwin Day in 2012 are therefore whether Big History is a good platform for understanding history and humanity, and for dialogue between the all too isolated faculties at the university. To introduce us to the field of Big History we have the pleasure to welcome Fred Spier. He is Senior Lecturer in Big History at the University of Amsterdam where he has organized and taught the annual 'Big History Course' since 1994.

Fred Spier    Big History Today
Monday 13 February 18:00
Kvarteret (Tivoli), Olav Kyrresgate 49.

Free admission.
This presentation will begin with a short overview of big history. This will be followed by mentioning a few major current big history trends worldwide, including active interest from major global players such as Bill Gates and Al Gore. The final portion of the presentation will be devoted to discussing current theoretical developments which help to elucidate big history, and thus may lead to formulating a historical theory of everything.

Lunch discussion in collaboration with Senter for vitskapsteori:
Can Big History revitalize teaching at UiB?
Monday 13 February 12:15
Historisk kafé at the Natural History Museum.
(Free admission, talk and discussion in English.)

Dominican University in California is the first to aim for Big History to become a common theme for all its education, introducing first semester bachelor students to a course which draws on disciplines such as biology, sociology, anthropology, geology, economics, political science, astronomy, literature, and more. Is that also a path for UiB - or even for all education in Norway?
Introduction by Fred Spier    How big history is currently taught
Summary: In this 30 minutes presentation, a number of course models will be presented, all with their advantages and disadvantages, that are currently being developed for teaching big history. These range from teaching big history by one single teacher to the development of a website which will facilitate for free the teaching of big history at high schools worldwide. Special attention will be paid to institutional politics.

More about Fred Spier
Spier first obtained a M.Sc. in biochemistry at the University of Leiden with research experience in plant genetic engineering and the synthesis of oligonucleotides. He subsequently obtained an M.A. in cultural anthropology at the Free University Amsterdam (cum laude) and a Ph.D. in cultural anthropology and social history (cum laude) at the University of Amsterdam. As part of these studies, Spier executed a ten-year research project on religion, politics and ecology in Andean Peru, which led to the publication of two books: Religious Regimes in Peru and San Nicolás de Zurite.

Current activities include developing a paradigm that helps to explain all of history. In his article How Big History Works: Energy flows and the rise and demise of complexity (2005), downloadable on his personal website, the first outline of this theory was proposed. An improved and more elaborate version of this argument is presented in his book Big History and the Future of Humanity (Wiley-Blackwell 2010; The paperback version was released in January 2011. A translation in Spanish was published in 2011; a translation into Chinese by Truth & Wisdom Press is planned for August 2012; and also the contract for a translation into Arabic has been signed.)
Spier is now working on a manuscript explaining how social and technical developments have conditioned the writing of history, tentatively titled: The Size of History: Reaching Out and Looking Back. In addition to promoting big history in many different arenas, Spier currently serves as the first Vice President of the International Big History Association (IBHA) and as Program Chair of the first IBHA conference 2012, to be held in Allendale / Grand Rapids, MI.

Why is the Darwin Day celebrated?
Who is behind the Darwin Day in Bergen?
Darwin Day in Oslo
Earlier events:
2011, 2010, 2009 (Darwin anniversary), 2008, 2007.


Institutt for biologi