The Big History Project was co-founded by Bill Gates and David Christian to enable the global teaching of the subject of Big History, which is described as "the attempt to understand, in a unified way, the history of Cosmos, Earth, Life and Humanity." It is a course that covers history from the Big Bang through to the present in an interdisciplinary way. The Big History Project "is dedicated to fostering a greater love and capacity for learning among high school students".
Bill Gates became interested in the topic when he heard "Big History: The Big Bang, Life on Earth, and the Rise of Humanity," a 48-lecture course taught by David Christian and published by The Teaching Company. For Gates, "he really blew me away. Here's a guy who's read across the sciences, humanities, and social sciences and brought it together in a single framework. It made me wish that I could have taken big history when I was young, because it would have given me a way to think about all of the school work and reading that followed. In particular, it really put the sciences in an interesting historical context and explained how they apply to a lot of contemporary concerns."
After Gates and Christian met to discuss the lectures, the genesis of the Big History Project occurred. They founded the project, and developed a team to achieve their stated goal, "to get big history taught to as many students around the world as possible".
To achieve that goal Big History Project was launched at the 2011 TED conference at Long Beach, California on 2 March 2011. David Christian presented an 18-minute lecture outlining big history and the intention of creating a global online delivery of a classroom-tested course aimed at 9th grade students. His presentation was part of the Bill Gates-curated "Knowledge Revolution" section of the conference. Christian's TED talk has been posted, and the link can be found below. The Big History Project website has also made available pdf versions of some of the timelines that support Christian's TED presentation.
The academic advisers are:
- Bob Bain, Associate Professor at the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor;
- Marnie Hughes-Warrington (Pro-Vice Chancellor, Monash University, Melbourne);
- Tracy Sullivan (Director of the Australian History Museum at Macquarie University, Sydney), and
- Sal Khan (founder and Executive Director of the Khan Academy).
The Seattle-based consultancy team Intentional Futures works directly with the Project's founders on strategy, course content, software design, marketing and school implementation. The International Big History Association is also listed as a partner in the project.
Initial pilot program
Seven schools were selected for the initial classroom pilot phase of the project. In the United States, San Diego High School of International Studies (California); The Rivers School (Massachusetts); Northville High School (Michigan); Greenhills High School (Michigan) and Lakeside School (Washington) taught Big History in the 2011/12 school year. In Australia, Narara Valley High School in New South Wales and Nossal High School in Victoria taught the course in their 2012 school year. In 2011 the Big History Project team held conferences in Sydney and Seattle with the teachers from the schools. These conferences established a framework for developing a school-based curriculum for big history, and outlined a structure for planning specific lessons to be trialled in classrooms in 2011/12. Teachers are developing lessons for their specific schools, and these lessons will be pooled as part of a developing resource base to facilitate the teaching of the course internationally.
Future pilot program
A second phase of piloting in schools will be utilized in 2012/13 before the release of a free curriculum online in 2013. Participating schools will "have the opportunity to pioneer the curriculum and will play key roles in evaluating and improving the course".
In Australia 26 schools were undertaking the course in 2013, with more due to take it up in 2014.
- "International Big History Association - Home". www.ibhanet.org. Retrieved 2016-06-12.
- "Big History Project". www.bighistoryproject.com. Retrieved 2016-06-12.
- "Big History Project - Macquarie University". bighistoryinstitute.org. Retrieved 2016-06-12.
- Sorkin, Andrew Ross (2014-09-05). "So Bill Gates Has This Idea for a History Class ..." The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved 2016-06-12.
- "TED2011: Program". conferences.ted.com. Retrieved 2016-06-12.
- "The Big History Project".
- "About Big History". www.bighistoryproject.com. Archived from the original on October 27, 2012. Retrieved 2016-06-12.
- "The Big History Project". www.bighistoryproject.com. Retrieved 2016-06-12.
- Bill Gates plans to teach Australian man's history course in schools worldwide ABC Lateline, 9 September 2013. Accessed 17 September 2013.