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Assignments (little big histories)

Little big histories are essays about subjects or answers to questions about history that are placed within the context of big history. This novel historical genre was invented in the Netherlands in 2007 CE by Dutch big historian Esther Quaedackers and her husband Marcel Koonen as a way of stimulating students to think big and out of the box, while seeking to grasp the importance of big history in everyday life.
 
In writing their little big histories, students are requested to pick a subject that they value and trace its entire history, from the big bang until today. They are also requested to make comparisons between different processes, such as, for instance, the emergence of the universe and the emergence of their subject.
 
Such unusual comparisons may help to clarify the particular aspects of both processes. Students may also look for metaphorical comparisons, such as how humans have projected their views onto their image of the universe, for instance the names and shapes of the constellations, the names of the planets, etc. In fact, they may use any link they like as long as it helps to throw new light on their topic from a big history point of view.
 
For their assignment, students have to fill out a form, called ‘little big history sheet,’ outlining all the connections between their subject or question and the relevant classes. A model of such a LBH sheet can be downloaded here.
 
While doing this, students may find that not all connections are equally useful. But they should not give up too soon, and must be challenged, if necessary, to be as creative as possible in finding their connections. In doing so, students will learn to think out of the box and come up with creative and hopefully useful ideas.
 
For writing their essays, students must pick at least three of these connections: one from the history of the universe; one from the history of life; and one from human history. They may use all connections that they find useful. Instructions for writing little big history essays can be downloaded here.
 
These essays are notoriously hard to grade. For a grading scheme it is suggested to use the following three categories:
- Content: including to what extent the information in the essay represents correct academic information about big history (9 points maximum),
- Style: how the essay was written (3 points maximum),
- Creativity (3 points maximum).
 
All these categories cannot be delineated very precisely and, in consequence, are up for discussion. As a result, it is suggested to be generous to your students as long as they have made a clear effort in writing their essays. Over the years we have experienced that virtually all students get fired up and write inspiring essays, some of which have later been used for various purposes.
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International Big History Association
Un. of Amsterdam big history
Cosmic Evolution
Big History Project
Chronozoom
Book: Teaching Big History
Bill Bryson: Short History of Nearly Everything
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