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GVSU To Host First Conference Of International ‘Big History’ Experts

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Grand Valley State University's main campus in Allendale. Photo: Wikimedia Commons.

Grand Valley State University’s main campus in Allendale. Photo: Wikimedia Commons.

(credit: istock) Technology Report
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GRAND RAPIDS — Big History has caught the attention of scientists and academics from across the globe, as well as the interest and financial support of Microsoft founder Bill Gates. Gates provided funding to help start up and support efforts of The International Big History Association, established in 2010, with headquarters in the Brooks College of Interdisciplinary Studies at Grand Valley State University.

Now, hundreds of international scholars, scientists and students of Big History will convene in Grand Rapids, when Grand Valley hosts the association’s inaugural conference August 2-5, with sessions in Grand Rapids and Allendale.

“Big History is an interdisciplinary approach to teaching and discovering the connections between humans and the environment in world history, a bridge between the humanities and sciences,” said Craig Benjamin, an IBHA co-founder who has taught Big History for 16 years, the past nine at Grand Valley.

One of the country’s foremost authorities on Big History, Benjamin has written, with co-authors Cynthia Brown and David Christian, the first Big History textbook, Big History: Between Nothing and Everything, preliminary edition published by McGraw Hill in 2012, First Edition to be published in 2013. He is also featured in the History Channel documentary “A History of the World in Two Hours,” which was broadcast nationally in 2011.

The conference will provide hundreds of opportunities to showcase the many different kinds of research, teaching and creativity that the innovative field is generating. Special presentations will include those by Andy Cook, director of Bill Gates’ Big History Project; representatives from an open source community project known as ChronoZoom; and keynote addresses by Walter Alveraz and Lawrence Gundersen. For more information about the conference and a complete schedule, visit www.ibhanet.org, or call (616) 331- 8035. The Midwest World History Association will join in with its third annual conference.

“The sort of problems humanity is facing now are on such a massive scale, they can’t be solved with narrow perspectives,” said Benjamin. “We need to train generations of young adults who can think across disciplines, can look at problems from different perspectives and bring the skills and insights of an environmental scientist, a historian, a physicist, a demographer and others.”

The movement to popularize the teaching of Big History has gained substantial ground in recent years. Funding and support from Microsoft Research Connections has helped to advance Chronozoom, at the University of California, Berkeley, and Moscow State University. The project is harnessing the wealth of materials being developed by scholars from around the world with the goal of making it easily accessible to anyone, online, for free.

Separately, Gates took an active interest in Big History after viewing DVDs of Christian’s lectures at Berkeley, and declared his interest in helping to provide such a class at the high school level. With personal funding, Gates has teamed up with Christian to established the Big History Project, which ran a pilot project last year with three high schools in Australia and six in the United States, including two in Michigan – Greenhills School in Ann Arbor, and Northville High School in Northville, coordinated through Bob Bain, associate professor of history and education at the University of Michigan. The program will be expanded to 50 schools in 2012-13.

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