Author's blog

On this page, observations of various kinds will appear that are related to big history teaching, as well as to big history in general.
February 22, 2015
While designing this web site to be as attractive as possible, I thought hard and long about what I liked, and did not like so much, about the great many web sites that I have visited over the past 17 years. I cannot be sure, of course, to what extent other people would share my opinions. So I am eager to receive feedback on whether the current design works or not. But the attempt was to make it as intuitively attractive and as easy to navigate as possible.
After having made the design, it became clear to me that it actually incorporates some fundamental aspects of human and animal behavior that may be better understood from a big history perspective. Let me explain.
The menus at the top are designed for visitors who may not even have heard of big history and find themselves on this web site for whatever reason. By using the blue buttons and the menus underneath, they can familiarize themselves very quickly with big history. And because every page looks similar, it is very difficult to get lost on the site. This situation is similar to how, for instance, flowers function, namely by attracting insects to their nectar in attractive and direct ways.
The menus on the left are meant for those visitors with a deeper interest in big history, most notably those who would like to use the book as a textbook. The pages for these links are currently being written and will be placed online as soon as they seem good enough to share them with the rest of the world.
The buttons on the left seem perhaps a little less general and attractive, and exploring these links may require a bit more of an effort. That is why they are a little bigger, while they are positioned on the left, and not on top of the page. But these links may be useful, so these blue buttons are similar to how, for instance, animals are guided to find the fruits that they like.
Menu bars were not used on purpose. Instead the choice was made for separate blue buttons with clickable menus, because I have consistently found that it takes more of a visual effort to find information on bars, or within tiles, than through separate buttons. This situation is similar to shortcuts on desktops, or icons on cell phones. Such images appear to ‘naturally’ attract our attention while inviting exploration. A screen that partially or totally consists of bars and tiles, by contrast, appears to have much less of such an effect. Why would that be?
While considering this question, it occurred to me that separate buttons may be similar to animals that hunters are trying to catch, or plants that gatherers are seeking to harvest. Furthermore, finding such animals or plants may ‘naturally’ invite questions about clustering: “would there be more of them, or other useful species, in the neighborhood?” In other words, icons with clickable menus underneath may be appealing to our gatherer and hunter instincts that developed over millions of years, which are still genetically ingrained inside all of us.
If that were the case, then it may be a good idea to explore such behaviors systematically from a big history perspective and use the results for designing web sites and other customer-related situations. I did not do so. The thought occurred to me only after the design was made.
Some big history aspects, however, were purposefully incorporated into the web site. The black background color, for instance, represents the universe, while the blue buttons stand for the sky. Not very surprisingly, perhaps, the thin blue line represents the horizon. Clicking on the book image takes the visitor back to the home page. This action is meant to symbolize that the book may function as a home for understanding big history.
International Big History Association
Un. of Amsterdam big history
Cosmic Evolution
Big History Project
Book: Teaching Big History
Bill Bryson: Short History of Nearly Everything
Other useful stuff on the web
Other big history
How to use the book
Course models
Learning goals and objectives
Teaching tools
Assignments (little big histories)
Answers to FAQs by students
Questions by students and teachers that go beyond the book
Examination models
Teaching big history