WHP Lesson 6: Big History

Historians study the past using different scales of both time and space. In this course, we start history from the very beginning of time as we know it—this approach is often referred to as Big History. 

Driving Question: Why begin a human history course before humans even existed?

  • You might think it’s a bit odd to start a world history course before humans existed. However, in order to gain a better understanding of who we are and where we came from, this is exactly what we need to do. This also means we rely on a variety of disciplines to help us understand the past. After all, we don’t have written records from the beginning of time.

Word of the Day: Big History

  • Definition: A unified account of the entire history of the Universe that uses evidence and ideas from many disciplines to create a broad context for understanding humanity; a modern scientific origin story. 

  • The environment developed before humans came along, then we co-developed with other species and our environment. The Big History approach helps us understand what came before humans, helping us arrive where we are today. 


  • Watch the Era 1 Overview video in Origins Lesson 1.1.
  • As you watch, think about your relationship to the environment and how it shapes our way of life. 

Historian’s Journal Prompt

  • How might COVID-19 be viewed as shaping history, despite the fact that the virus itself isn’t human?

  • Think about how a Big History approach might help us answer this question, and how we might use insights from other disciplines to help us.