Issue DOI:

From the Editor


SETI and Big History: Challenge and Extension
Lowell Gustafson
SETI e la grande storia: sfide ed espansione
Tradotto da Demetrio S. Yocum
SETI e a Grande História: Desafio e Extensão
Traduzido por Daniel de Pinho Barreiros
A History of Cosmic Habitability
Amedeo Balbi
Una Storia dell’Abitabilità Cosmica
Uma História da Habitabilidade Cósmica
Biospheric Evolution Is Coarsely Deterministic
David Schwartzman
L’Evoluzione Biosferica è Grossolanamente Deterministica
Tradotto da Nicolò Antonietti
Searching for Life on Mars: The Role of Chaos
Giorgio Bianciardi
Alla ricerca di vita su Marte: il ruolo della Fisica del Caos
Two Power Curves Yielding the Energy of a Lifetime in Evo-SETI Theory
Claudio Maccone
Due Curve di Potenza Rappresentanti l’Energia di un Ciclo di Vita nella Teoria Evo-SETI
Tradotto da Nicolò Antonietti
Some Culturological Aspects of METI Problems with EM Radiation
Liliya Filippova, Vladimir Filippova
The Experience of Intercultural Dialogue in the Amazonian University UCSS-Nopoki and Its Implications for SETI

Paolo Musso, Mariano Asla, Wilmer Atachahua Ursua, Guisella Azcona Avalos, María Capatinta, Ángel Gómez Navarro, David Lagos Liberato, Didier López Francis, Janina Navarro Linares, Carlota Pereyr Rey, Teófilo Vargas, Carlos Viaña Rubio, Patricia Vilcapuma Vinces
L’Esperienza del Dialogo Interculturale nell’Università Amazzonica UCSS-Nopoki e le Sue Implicazioni per il SETI e la Big History
Tradotto da Paolo Musso
La Experiencia de Diálogo Intercultural en la Universidad Amazónica UCSS-Nopoki y Sus Implicaciones para el SETI y la Big Historia
Traducido por Paolo Musso
Considering Grand Challenges in Undergraduate General Biology Education: Integration, Big History, and Scientific Literacy
Paul J. Narguizian
Feasibility Study for Employing an Interdisciplinary Framework for Sustainability Education: Teaching Experience from Hong Kong
Alexis K. H. Lau, Aidan W. H. Wong, Robert Gibson
Studio di Fattibilità per l’Impiego di una Struttura Interdisciplinare dell’Insegnamento della Sostenibi-lità: Esperienza di Insegnamento in Hong Kong
Tradotto da Nicolò Antonietti


Journal of Big History (JBH)
Volume III Issue 1
Kilauea Eruptions and the Hawaiian Archipelago:
The Geology of Plate Tectonics and Hotspots

Barry WoodErupções do Kilauea e o arquipélago havaiano:
a geologia da tectônica de placas e dos pontos quentes

Barry Wood
Towards a Big History Model for Italian Schools:
The Convergence of Knowledge from Many Disciplines

Adalberto Codetta Raiteri, Marina Porta, Giovanni Grieco, Renza Cambini
Was there a Big Bang?
Leonid Grinin
The Evolution of Social Constructs
A Proposal for the Re-Conceptualization of Sociobiology for Understanding Interdependent Social Networks as Evolving “Organisms” Using Norbert Elias’s, The Court Society

Anthony NairnA Evolução de Construtos Sociais
Uma proposta de reconceitualização da sociobiologia para a compreensão de redes sociais interdependentes como “organismos” em evolução usando A Sociedade de Corte, de Norbert Elias

Anthony Nairn; Translated by Daniel Daniel Barreiros
A Theory of No-Thing
André de VinckUma teoria de nada
André de Vinck; Translated by Tatiana Massuno
¿De la Big History a la Gran Historia?
Conversaciones con Fred Spier

Carlos Daniel Pérez, César Duque SánchezFrom Big History to la Gran Historia?
A Conversation with Fred Spier

Carlos Daniel Pérez, César Duque Sánchez; Translated by Mason J. Veilleux

Book Review

The New Story, the Biggest Picture, and a Little Big History of Flight
A Review of Books by Wendy Curtis Barry Wood

Barry Wood

Student Research

From Ghoonghat to De Beauvoir:
Finding a Feminist Voice through Ethnography

Isha Mathur
Entire Issue
Journal of Big History III 1


Imogene Drummond
Connecting Castileblanco with the Cosmos
In August, artist and filmmaker Imogene Drummond had a solo show in Castilblanco, Spain, entitled “Connecting Castilblanco with the Cosmos.” It featured an interactive video installation in which people moved through the exhibit space and saw imagery of their local landscape mixed with the cosmos projected onto themselves.”
Yvonne Fritz
Conference Encounter
Yvonne Fritz originally studied civil engineering with a focus on traffic, water, environment. Later she turned her love for the English language into studying translation and became a state certified translator which enabled her also to teach English at her local folk high school in Meiningen, Germany. For that she acquired an adult education qualification. She has just started to introduce Big History there through an English course. Prospectively, she would like to teach Big History in German.
The political upheaval in East-Germany in 1989/90 was a major impact on her life. Being 17 at that time, she quickly had to learn how to manage life in a completely different kind of society without having role-models because her parents’ generation was going through the same experience at the same time.
Read about her responses to the 2018 IBHA conference.
Steven Gorosh
The Emergent Universe Oratorio Soars
Read Steven Gorosh’ review of highlight of the performance of the “Emergent Universe Oratorio” on at the 2018 IBHA conference. Composer Sam Guarnaccia’s innovative and inspiring composition, ably performed by the Main Line Symphony Orchestra and Choir conducted by Don Liuzzi, and delivered in the beautiful St. Thomas of Villanova Church, combined to provide a memorable evening. Recordings of the concert are here.
David Christian
Origin Story
Read why Bill Gates says that he has “long been a fan of David Christian. In Origin Story, he elegantly weaves evidence and insights from many scientific and historical disciplines into a single, accessible historical narrative.”
William Grassie
Applied Big History
Who should read William Grassie’s new book? Pretty much everybody. Big History is our common story—an origins story that transcends ethnic, political, religious, and linguistics differences. It provides a framework for understanding, debating, and solving the great challenges of our time. It provides an ennobling perspective on our lives, generating wonder, awe, amazement, and gratitude. The applied part of Big History impacts how we conceive every career and industry, every academic discipline and vocation, every problem and opportunity. Grassie’s book is unique in the field for exploring Big History as to its relevance to decision-making in business and finance.
2020 IBHA Conference
The 2020 IBHA conference in Pune, Maharastra, India at Symbiosis International University is our first conference in Asia. Please start making your plans to be with us at this exciting event!
Big History Meets the Montessori Method, by Lucy Laffitte
The North American Montessori Teachers Association hosted a conference in Cleveland, Ohio called “Montessori History: Searching for Evolutionary Scientific Truth.” Midway through the conference was a presentation called Big History. It proved to be a fruitful event as much post-presentation interaction between audience and presenter ensued. Here, then, is a distillation of what was presented: What is it; who is involved; where is it taught; how to get involved; and what Dr. Laffitte’s college students think about it.
Do Humans Have a Purpose on Earth? by James Tierney
A decade ago James Tierney would have said no to the question of a purpose for humanity. During the last decade, however, numerous scholars have observed that human culture drives a process through which our species is emerging as well as the habitat wherein we reside. He has been rethinking his answer.

Donna Tew | Office Coordinator
International Big History Association
c/o Lowell Gustafson
Villanova University University
SAC 253
800 Lancaster Avenue
Villanova, PA 19085 USA

The Emergent Universe Oratorio Composed by Sam Guarnaccia and performed by the Main Line Symphony Orchestra at St. Thomas of Villanova Church on the campus of Villanova University as part of the 2018 International Big History Association Conference.  (Higher quality Vimeo recordings are here.)


The Great Flaring Forth
In the great silence—before space or time—
A trembling — a singularity of infinite potential—
The first stirring of our shimmering Universe.
In that fertile darkness grew
An unimaginable attraction —
An unbounded possibility —
That the Universe would burst into brilliance,
Flaring forth with inconceivable power.
Impelled by cosmic fire —
An ecstasy of elementary particles and light —
In a micro-instant
The fireball would inflate — Expanding space
As gravity waves shaped the contours
Of the emerging cosmos.
So would begin a journey into magnificence,
The blossoming of our universe,
A single, multi-form energy event,
Ever evolving in beauty and complexity.
Enfolded in the chaos of primordial particles would be
The impulse of matter to bond,
Igniting the promise
Of atoms and galaxies,
Suns and planets, oceans, rivers,
Trees, butterflies, and songs of love.
In the great silence—
The Universe poised — in exquisite — anticipation — Gathering —
Awaiting the first breath —
Energy —
Space — Time — Mass — Light —
The Great Radiance unfurled —
The story of a living Universe
Bringing forth all that we know,
Birthing all that we are and ever shall be.
Asking of us now —
How shall we move into this Mystery?
How may we know and live this story?
How shall we know and love this Earth?
                    Peter Adair, with Caitlin Adair,  Sam and Paula Guarnaccia
Gravity’s Law
How surely gravity’s law,
Strong as an ocean current,
Takes hold of even the smallest thing
And pulls it toward the heart of the world.
Each thing —
Each stone, blossom, child —
Is held in place.
Only we, in our arrogance,
Push out beyond what we each belong to
For some empty freedom.
If we surrendered
To earth’s intelligence
We could rise up rooted, like trees.
Instead we entangle ourselves
In knots of our own making.
And struggle, lonely and confused.
So, like children, we begin again
To learn from the things,
Because they are in God’s heart;
They have never left him.
This is what the things can teach us:
To fall,
patiently to trust our heaviness.
Even a bird has to do that
Before it can fly.
                   Rainer Maria Rilke, Translated by Joanna Macy and Anita Barrows
Emanating Brilliance of Stars
“How are we to understand the beauty of the Universe?
What gave birth to all this beauty?”
What is the mystery —
the ‘primordial vibrations’ — -1
the music at the heart of the Universe? — SG
More than one trillion galaxies paint the heavens—
Majestic Islands in an expanding ocean of dark energy—
Held together in the fierce embrace of dark matter—
Each with countless stars —
Echoes of the Great Flaring Forth.
Spiraling galaxies like our Milky Way are wombs of creativity,
For along their dancing bejeweled arms
Density waves pulse, hydrogen clouds contract,
And new stars continually burst into brilliance.
Like humans, stars are born, flourish, age and die.
In their dying, large stars collapse inward—
Then explode as breathtaking supernovas
Spewing newly created heavy elements into the vastness of space.
The very atoms composing our bodies—
Carbon, oxygen, magnesium, iron—
Woven through every leaf, feather, eye or hand—
Are born in the spectacular explosions of perishing stars.
In one great galactic arm,
An immense fragment of molecular cloud collapsed—
Its gas and cosmic dust grains
Flattening into a disc—
The center flaring into our Sun.
Poised on the ‘knife edge’ between implosion and explosion,
The sun drew these precious grains of dust
Into ‘the silence of the gravitational embrace’. -2
Gradually coalescing into a necklace of unique planets:
Mercury, Venus, Mars, Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, Neptune—
And Earth, the bountiful Bearer of Life.
For countless millennia
Humans have looked with awe into the night sky,
Transfixed by the majestic beauty of the heavens,
Finding nourishment, meaning, guidance.
Our world—imaged forth in the wonders of the sun and clouds by day—
The stars and planets by night. -3
Now we know—
We are children of the Great Flaring Forth—
Stars are our ancestors—
And we—descendants of their radiant and creative Being.
                Peter Adair, with Caitlin Adair,  Sam Guarnaccia, Paula Guarnaccia
EarthRise AMEN
In the beginning
Was the dream,
Thomas Berry
 Life’s Emergence
Across the broad field of space—
The planets—suspended on the
Outstretched arms of our spiral galaxy.
One planet – a fertile mix of
Churning oceans, roiling magma,
And charged atmosphere—
Breathes into being
Single-celled organisms
to become a Living Earth.
Over three billion years ago
The first fragile membrane formed
Separating the cell from its surroundings,
Becoming the first locus of perception, choice, sensation—
Determining what was nourishing, what was safe,
What was to remain.
Within its DNA, life remembered, encoding
Successes, rejecting failures—
Evolving patterns of adaptation and reproduction—
Intertwining spirals of memory mirrored in the unfolding fern,
The spider web, the Nautilus, the snail—
A patient, probing, innovative wisdom,
A single expanding responsiveness.
As these primeval cells
Spread throughout the Earth—
Some turned toward the Sun,
Their source of warmth and light,
Inaugurating the miracle of photosynthesis—
Sunlight becoming food for the planet.
Preparing the way for
algae, fungi, mosses,
Slime molds, sporophytes, the slithering fishes,
Frogs, turtles, lizards,
Every species of bird
Stretching their bright wings across the sky—
And the skinny shrew,
Small, warm blooded, among
The first of the beautiful mammals.
From the astounding creativity
of the great super-kingdoms Archaea and Bacteria,
Cells engulfed and merged with each other,
Bringing forth Eukarya—a new form of life—
Powered by oxygen,
Inventing the protective nucleus—
Co-evolving within a single cell of staggering complexity.
Through LIFE—
Earth awakened to itself and the Universe.
Emerging—‘through a glorious sequence of transformations,’-1
From the Flaring Forth—to galaxies—to stars—to Living Earth,
Infinitely interdependent—because…
“Nothing is itself without everything else”. -2
                      Peter Adair, with Caitlin Adair, Sam Guarnaccia
God’s Grandeur
The world is charged with the grandeur of God.
It will flame out, like shining from shook foil;
It gathers to a greatness, like the ooze of oil
Crushed. Why do men then now not reck his rod?
Generations have trod, have trod, have trod;
And all is seared with trade, bleared, smeared with toil;
And wears men’s smudge and shares men’s smell: the soil
Is bare now, nor can foot feel, being shod.
And for all this, nature is never spent;
There lives the dearest freshness deep down things;
And though the last lights off the black West went
Oh, morning, at the brown brink eastward, springs —
Because the Holy Ghost over the bent
World broods with warm breast and ah! bright wings.
                      Gerard Manley Hopkins
The Passion of Animals
Ravens in flight release twigs,
then swoop down gracefully to catch them again.
Porcupines dance on their hind legs,
swaying rhythmically from side to side.
Coyote cubs tussle and tumble by day, and after nightfall
Sing with their elders to the glory of the moon.
Six hundred million years ago,
 animals emerged from this single-celled life.
With unique powers of movement,
they colonized new territories,
bringing forth a kaleidoscope of creatures—
Pervading Air, Land and Sea with sensual,
emotional and instinctual life.
Animals sensitize the planet,
Bringing forth symphonies of sound and smell, taste and touch:
Bees and wasps see ultraviolet light patterns
 leading them to pollen and nectar.
Bats navigate the dark with echoing sound waves.
Dogs sniff a landscape of odors,
while tiny spring peepers join returning birds,
filling the springtime world with vibrant song.
Through the passion of animals,
 Life unleashes an explosion of consciousness and sensitivity—
By constantly signaling and sensing each other—
From the flash patterns of fireflies at night
to the rescue of humans at sea by dolphins—
their perception creates intricate webs of interconnectedness,
predation, and caring.
Red-crowned cranes leap and float in a balletic mating dance.
Crows slide playfully down snowy inclines
 on makeshift sleds of their own invention.
Elephants become delirious with excitement at the birth of a calf.
Young mammals revel in the pure joy of exuberant play,
rapturous pleasure evoking inventive behavior,-1
 flexibility, and the stretching of boundaries.
Their play is practice for the high stakes of life and death
In the protected grace of parental care.
 ‘The ancient powers of their emotions’—
 ‘sculpted by the realities of survival’. -1
One day, Nature would produce a mammal
with a prolonged period
of youthful curiosity and exploration –
A being with a passion for learning, creativity, and wonder.
                       Peter Adair, with Caitlin Adair, Sam Guarnaccia
The Cascade: Dialogue
The Cascade: Dialogue Tim Guiles and Aly Brisbois
Aly Brisbois: Increasingly, human activity threatens animal well being; tens of thousands of species are declining, others are already gone.
Tim Guiles: Thin-Spined Porcupine, Polar Bear, African Forest Elephant, Bengal Tiger, Manatee, Hazel Dormouse.
Aly Brisbois: Trees, in forests across the world, struggle to adapt to environments that are rapidly changing.
Tim Guiles: Hinton’s Oak, African Blackwood, Monkey Puzzle, Four-Petal Paw-Paw, Florida Yew, Sugar Maple.
Aly Brisbois: Glaciers are being lost — receding and evaporating into the atmosphere.
Tim Guiles: Greenland Ice Sheet, Lewis Glacier, Antarctica, Exit Glacier, Gangotri Glacier, Muir Glacier.
Aly Brisbois: Bats populations are overwhelmed by disease and die in their hibernaculum each winter. Other winged animals fall into peril.
Tim Guiles: Little brown bat, Northern long eared bat, Bay Checkerspot, Fender’s Blue, Eskimo Curlew, Giant Ibis, Forest Owlet.
Aly Brisbois: The skin of amphibians is pervious to the chemical environments around them — they are some of life’s most vulnerable.
Tim Guiles: California red-legged frog, Puerto Rican crested toad, Mississippi Gopher frog, Blue Spotted salamander, Anderson’s Crocodile newt.
Aly Brisbois: And the coral reefs, one of the most bio-diverse habitats on Earth, many face extinction by the end of the century.
Tim Guiles: Great Barrier Reef, Florida Keys, Southeast Asian coral reefs, Caribbean coral reefs, Sri Lankan coral reefs, Surin Islands, Seychelles.
Aly Brisbois: Honeybee colonies mysteriously collapse and vanish from their hives, while native pollinators around the world are lost. For these and for all life going or gone forever, we share our lament.
       Paula Guarnaccia and Amy Seidel
Viola solo
Orchestral Interlude
Planetary Presence
From primates our ancestors emerged a new breed,
Curious and playful, a dream-making animal
Spontaneous, astonished, compelled to try everything!
Language sputtered and sung into being —
Through language, each human
Carried an entire universe within,
Saturated with dreams and laughter
And blazing with imagination.
Every place we went, we became that place,
As the Spirit of seashore, forest, tundra
Captivated our imagining.
Diverse human cultures met and mixed and mingled
From wandering tribes into settled communities
Taming, inventing, expressing, exploring.
Earth became permeated with human presence.
Consciousness gave birth to symbols,
Which then magnified consciousness.
Language and symbol
Set fire to human possibility.
With writing, art, music, technology,
Life’s creativity burst beyond biological coding.
Human culture became a new DNA outside the body,
Changing the face of Earth
And the dynamic of evolution.
With human emergence, the universe created a space
Where depths of feeling are concentrated,
Where wonder is birthed,
Where an ocean of experience and understanding
Gave rise to a planetary species.
We belong here.
We are a planet-altering species, a juvenile species
Playing havoc with the air, the climate, the rivers, the oceans.
We live on a different planet now,
A planet where the human
Profoundly affects the course of evolution.
Yet we belong here.
This dream-making animal —
Riding a wave of conscious evolution
We awakened
To find ourselves here
Telling the story of the universe, a story that is also telling us.
                       Peter Adair, with Caitlin Adair
The Peace of Wild Things
When despair for the world grows in me
And I wake in the night at the least sound
In fear of what my life and my children’s lives may be,
I go and lie down where the wood drake
Rests in his beauty on the water, and the great heron feeds.
I come into the peace of wild things
Who do not tax their lives with forethought
Of grief. I come into the presence of still water.
And I feel above me the day-blind stars
Waiting with their light. For a time
I rest in the grace of the world, and am free.
Wendell Berry
Time’s Topography
Streams wind down from the heights,
Converging like branches of a tree.
John Muir, from his Sierra ridge,
Could see Yosemite’s lakes
As apples on those rippling boughs.
Merced, sweet River of Mercy,
Broadening through the valley,
 was the trunk.
Here in the thickening woods
Of clear-cut and recovering Vermont
We see our watersheds as maples,
Fluctuating in the muddy spring.
On freezing nights twigs suck
Sap up to see them through
And barred owls call their mates
Across the starry dark.
Come sun-warmed morning, sap
Slides down the river of this trunk.
Matter expends itself in the limbs of life,
Surges back into the pulsing core.
Persuaded by time’s loving heat,
Even rocks keep metamorphosing
“into monarch butterflies,
Blue herons and the exalted
music of Mozart.” (1) Like wolves,
larger and grayer every year,
coyotes down from Canada
imprint the empty snow of March
while lifting their own wild songs
into the clamor of those amorous owls.
Time wells and eddies, spiraling outward
And inward in this tidal forest of a world,
Bringing sweetness to our mouths,
Strength to our bones,
Then homecoming and release.
Our separate lives find confluence here.
                  John Elder
Morningside Cathedral
Whale song from
the deep of the sea.
Wolf cry from the forest.
Heartbeat of a planet.
This cry
Our Revelation
As the sun
Sinks lower
In the sky
Over a wounded
And the healing
Of the wound
Is there in
A single cry
A throat opened wide
For the wild
Sacred sound…
Hovering over
The darkening earth,
Beseeching humankind
To bring back the Sun,
To let the flowers
Bloom in the meadows
The rivers run
Through the hills
And to let
The Earth and all
Her living creatures
Live their wild fierce
Serene and abundant life.
                     Thomas Berry
Emerging Earth Community
This is our moment—
“The Universe is holding its breath
Waiting for us to take our place.” (1)
Revolutionary discoveries have led us
to an astounding breadth of knowledge—
 a phenomenal awareness—
Calling us to responsibility
Reaffirming what we already knew…
What we do to Earth, we do to ourselves!
Perhaps our destiny is
To journey into the depths of things —
To drink so deeply of the powers
Of this living universe, (2)
That we recognize
The profound dimensions of
Our radical mutuality—
And learn the languages of mountains,
of rivers, of trees,
the languages of the birds,
all the animals and insects—
and the languages of the stars.’- (3)
The great new understanding is this:
Our universe — a single,
irreversible, sequential, celebratory even — (4)
Is not simply a place,
But a story in which we are immersed,
To which we belong
And out of which we arose. (5)
We — live — our — lives — forward — into — mystery
Within the Community of EARTH—
A “magnificent  diversity…
in the coherence of an unparalleled unity”—(6)
where the biosphere and human culture
Are not only emergent
But radically and ceaselessly and astonishingly creative. (7)
How can we find a way to sink into these immensities?
How can we embrace this intimate and
 ineffable journey into grandeur? (8)
                     Cameron Davis, Paula Guarnaccia and Sam Guarnaccia
“We are beings
In whom the universe
Shivers in wonder at itself — (1)
The space where earth dreams.” (2)
                     Brian Thomas Swimme, Mary Evelyn Tucker
Something of wonder is happening—
We are awakening!!—
to a renewed awe in the presence of mystery—
in the presence of what is.
‘Like the ocean
with its power to pour through boundaries’—
We are capable of ‘a profound intimacy of relationship…’ (1)
with the winds, sea, land—
-all the unnumbered forms of life in the great community of Earth (2)
‘Something radically new’ has emerged—
“the capacity to experience the world” through another—(3)
Infused with Empathy—moved by Compassion—
Living within “an undivided wholeness”— (4)
‘a unified, glorious outpouring of being’. (5)
“For just as the Milky Way
Is the universe in the form of a galaxy
And an orchid is the universe
In the form of a flower,
We are the universe
In the form of a human.
And every time we are drawn to look up into the night sky
Reflecting on the awesome beauty —
We are actually the universe
Reflecting on itself.
And knowing this—changes—everything!!” (5)
                    Cameron Davis and Sam Guarnaccia
To See a World
To see a world in a grain of sand
And a heaven in a wild flower,
Hold infinity in the palm of your hand
And eternity in an hour.
                    William Blake

The South Korean Big History Academy sponsored a “Talk Concert” in which it was my pleasure to participate.


Way back in 2010, I got to go to a seminar given by Walter Álvarez in Coldigioco, Italy.  In 1981, Walter had discovered evidence that led to an explanation for the extinction of non-avian dinosaurs 65 million years ago.  He found in the mountains just outside of Gubbio Italy a thin line of iridium, which is common in asteroids but uncommon on earth.  As it turned out, a huge crater just off the coast of the Yucatan was later discovered.  The Chicxulub Crater showed that an asteroid about 6 miles wide had hit the earth, causing first a firestorm – and also sending lots of debris up into the atmosphere,  which caused a prolonged winter.  This one / two punch did the dinosaurs in – not all a bad thing, since it gave mammals a chance to flourish and evolve into us.  Below that line of iridium, the layer of rock shows lots of evidence of life forms.  Just above it, it was mostly mud.  It wasn’t just the dinosaurs that died off from the global disaster.

Anyway, after we went to the site outside of Gubbio, we had a few hours to walk around the town.  I was completely taken by the architecture – and especially all the neat doors.  It’s not original – I’m sure you’ve seen lots of other such collages, but ever since, I wanted to put together a poster with pictures from Gubbio.  So here is my effort.  It’s a big file, so it may take a while to download.  Gubbio is worth the wait; my poster may or may not be.



International Big History Association

Big History seeks to understand the integrated history of the Cosmos, Earth, Life, and Humanity, using the best available empirical evidence and scholarly methods.

Beginning about 13.8 billion years ago, the story of the past is a coherent record that includes a series of great thresholds. Beginning with the Big Bang, Big History is an evidence-based account of emergent complexity, with simpler components combining into new units with new properties and greater energy flows.

In the first moments after the Big Bang, the universe is thought to have been so hot and dense that matter could only exist in the form of a soup of quarks and gluons. As the universe expanded and cooled, matter could take on new forms, including the first protons and neutrons, followed much later by neutral atoms. Though the early universe was almost perfectly uniform, slight non-uniformities existed from the beginning, and over cosmic time gravity has enhanced those non-uniformities, pulling matter from less dense regions into more dense regions. This has produced the large-scale structure of the universe that we see today, including galaxies, galaxy clusters, and superclusters.

Within galaxies, gravity causes the collapse of gas clouds to form stars, which combine atomic nuclei to produce heavier elements through nuclear fusion. Before the first stars formed, the universe contained only hydrogen, helium, and small amounts of lithium (created in the first minutes after the Big Bang, when the universe as a whole was still hot enough to sustain fusion). But massive stars create carbon, oxygen, and all manner of heavier elements through fusion all the way up to iron. When these stars run out of fuel and explode as supernovae, the huge amounts of energy released often allow for the formation of even heavier elements like gold, uranium, and others. The heavy-element-enriched gas propelled outward by a supernova mixes with pre-existing gas and dust clouds, which may then collapse under gravity’s influence to form second-generation stars. Because first-generation stars had created heavy elements, these were available for gravity to form rocky or terrestrial planets.

The formation of our own Sun and Earth took place about 4.6 billion years ago. The Solar System is located in one of the Milky Way’s outer spiral arms, known as the Orion Arm or Local Spur. We are between 25,000 and 28,000 light years from the center of the Milky Way galaxy, which consists of a few hundred billion stars. We are traveling around that center at a rate of about 220 kilometers per second, completing one revolution every 225- 250 million years. Over the past 4.6 billion years, the Earth has seen many chapters in its own history, with changes in atmosphere, the appearance and continual reformation of land masses through plate tectonics, and many other transformations.

Elements and molecules on the Earth formed various combinations in a process of chemical evolution. About 4 billion years ago, some of them formed membranes, gained access to additional chemicals and energy that became metabolism, and became able to reproduce with variation. What is called life then began its own highly uneven process of evolution, sometimes becoming more complex and diversified. Major transitions led to such features as cell nucleii, photosynthesis, intentional motion, multicellular specialization and cooperation, heads, backbones, four limbs, and many other features.

The rise of mammals following the extinction of dinosaurs some 65 million years ago led to the emergence of hominids. Eventually Homo sapiens emerged 200,000 years ago. Bipedal, largely hairless, large- brained, and with opposable thumbs, humans developed symbolic and imaginative language, inherited a social nature, and made ethics explicit.

Through our culture, humans shaped some of the natural forces from which we emerged. We added hunting to scavenging and gathering. Beginning about 70,000 years ago, we left our African home and migrated throughout the globe, crossing Beringia into the Americas some 20,000 years ago (though the precise date is still heavily debated). We formed bands, kinship groups, villages, chiefdoms, cities, nations, and empires. Our species crossed other major thresholds with the emergence of agricultural states, the burning of fossil fuels, and the recent entrance into an information-rich, digital era.

We have fought many wars among ourselves and brought about environmental degradation and resource depletion. These and other problems threaten the quality and even survival of our species. We face a current crisis and a possible loss of complexity. Over 99% of the species that have ever existed are now extinct. No complex species is likely to survive intact for more than a few million years; we will be lucky if we survive that long.

Does Big History provide a narrative that can help nurture the development of the empathy and cooperation that are part of our social nature? Can humans form a more perfect human community as we continue to create a more complex society than has existed before? Or will our current levels of social complexity face inexorable demise?

Whatever the answers to these questions, any species still surviving on Earth a few billion years from now would be well-advised to hop a spaceship to another solar system. Those still on Earth will face a much hotter sun. About 5 billion years from now, the Sun will run out of hydrogen fuel in its core and will grow into a red giant, evaporating the oceans and possibly engulfing the Earth. The Sun will eventually eject its outer layers, leaving behind its core, a white dwarf that will cool and fade over trillions of years. Meanwhile, other galaxies may keep racing away from our own Local Group of galaxies, perhaps leaving us with a sky devoid of the images of distant galaxies that have contributed so much to our understanding of the universe and the cosmic context of the Earth.