When I was coming up through the educational system, I remember my teachers telling me that history covered the period for which “written records were available.” Outside this construct, any studies were the realm of some other disciple. As such “big history”, which covers the period from the Big Bang onwards, may seem not be a history at all. However, with the hyperspecialization of academic disciplines in the 20th century, many felt that there was a need for a broader view that synthesized findings from a variety of areas of studies (cosmology, archeology, anthropology, biology, etc) to tell a digestible, comprehensive ‘origin story’ of humankind, a story that is of course far older than what can be gleaned from what is available in writing.
David Christian is one of the pioneers of this newer field, and in this interview with Philip Adams (on ABC RadioNational’s Late Night Live), he talks about big history in the context of our current political moment. Adams is one of the greater interviewers of our time and this discussion between two septuagenarians seemed me to be particularly apt to many of the topics that are also discussed by Sam in his podcast (incidentally, Adams jokes that David should change his last name from “Christian” to “Atheist”), with a perspective that takes into account many intellectual developments of the last several decades.
The podcast is here: http://www.abc.net.au/radionational/programs/latenightlive/origin-story/9744054
David’s recent book: https://amzn.to/2KVZuQt
I love this idea. It’s immediately intuitive to me given the array of new tools available to historians AND given new cultural insights into plurality and previously unconsidered historical narratives.
For a long time I’ve been fixated on the idea of ‘historical fact’ or those assertions deemed to be true because the likelihood of their fabrication can be deductively reduced to a trivial percent. These were a few and far between for a long time but can be far more emergent as the tools of anthropology, archaeology, geology and biological cataloging converge. (Note I’m way out of my depth on these subjects and mainly just digest them in documentary form)