BIG HISTORY SYLLABUS
INTERDEPARTMENTAL COURSE IN WORLD AND HUMAN HISTORY: 1997 -
J. Goudsblom and F. Spier, October 1997
University of Amsterdam
Here is the programme of our Big History course for the next trimester.
The course is meant for undergraduates from all departments at the University
of Amsterdam. This programme has been modelled on the course `An Introduction
to World History' organised by the historian, Prof. David Christian, at
Macquarie University, Sydney, Australia. Lectures will take place in the
second trimester, from December 1997 until March 1998, on Tuesdays and
Fridays from 3 p.m. to 5 p.m..
If you would like further information, please contact Fred Spier, University
of Amsterdam <firstname.lastname@example.org>
INTRODUCTION: TIME PERSPECTIVES
Tuesday 9 December 1. World and human history: thematic introduction
- General aims of the course: combining the natural and social sciences.
- Changing paradigms and perspectives.
- Problems of scope and precision. Prof. J. Goudsblom (University of
Friday 12 December 2. Old and new myths
- General characteristics of pre-scientific accounts in various cultures
about the origins and history of the Universe, the Earth, life, humanity
and the own societies.
- The rise and development of scientific views of the past. Dr. F. Spier
(University of Amsterdam)
Tuesday 16 December 3. Humanity between micro- and macro-processes
- The importance of microprocesses in historical perspective.
- Theories of everything: promises and limitations. Prof. K. van Dam
(University of Amsterdam)
PART 1: BEFORE HUMANITY
Tuesday 6 January 4. Evolution of the Universe and galaxies
- Modern accounts of the origins and development of the Universe and
- Big Bang cosmology and stars as sources of the physical elements of
which we all are constructed. Prof. E.P.J. van den Heuvel (University of
Friday 9 January 5. Evolution of the Universe
- The history of the Universe during the past 15 billion years: problems
and insights. Prof. E.P.J. van den Heuvel (University of Amsterdam)
Tuesday 13 January 6. The Solar System in which we live
- The exploration of the Solar System in the past twenty-five years with
the aid of space probes was a unique event in human history.
- Changing insights and the question of the formation of planets elsewhere
in the Universe. Dr. H.F. Henrichs (University of Amsterdam)
Friday 16 January 7. A close perspective: Earth and Solar System
- Origins of the Solar system and the Earth.
- The unique (as far as we know) dynamic planetary System Earth (solid
earth, hydrosphere, biosphere and their interactions).
- Why did the geologically similar planets Venus, Mars and Earth develop
into the now so very different systems? Prof. H.N.A. Priem (State University
of Utrecht, Artis Geological Museum)
Tuesday 20 January 8. Life The phenomenon of life.
- Building blocks and origins. RNA and DNA.
- The big jump: from bacterial (prokaryotic) to more complex (eukaryotic)
- Modern theory of biological evolution. Prof. F.R. Schram (University
Friday 23 January 9. Life as a geological force
- The interaction between the developing biosphere and the physical world.
- Changes in structure of the earth's crust and the atmosphere, including
the formation and shift of continents, the formation of a biological cover
and the origins of an oxygen rich atmosphere. Dr. P. Westbroek (State University
Tuesday 27 January 10. A developmental history of the human environment
- Ecological changes during the last 3 to 5 million years.
- Influence of astronomical factors on climate change.
- Dynamics and evolution of entire ecosystems in response to climatic
change, sea level movements and mountain range formation, and the influence
on the development of civilisations. Prof. H. Hooghiemstra (University
PART 2: THE FIRST HUMAN SOCIETIES
Friday 30 January 11. Human evolution
- The evolution of big apes, humanids and early humans. Dr. J. de Vos
(National Museum of Natural History)
Tuesday 3 February 12. The study of human history
- Histories of societies and the history of humankind.
- Which proposals for classifying human history have been made, and what
types of resistance have they provoked?
- Social development as an underlying core theme.
- The centrality of mechanisms of social and ecological development.
Prof. J. Goudsblom (University of Amsterdam)
Friday 7 February 13. Gatherers and hunters
- The spread of Homo erectus and Homo sapiens.
- Control of fire as the first great ecological transition.
- Culture and structure of early gatherer and hunter societies.
- The rise of exchange networks of people, goods (i.e.flint), and knowledge.
- Increasing human influence on the natural environment. Drs J. Deeben
(State Agency for Archaeological Research)
PART 3: THE RISE OF AGRICULTURAL SOCIETIES AND POLITICAL CENTRALISATION
Tuesday 10 February 14. Early agricultural societies
- The reaction of behaviourally modern humans to late glacial instability
and the onset of interglacial conditions; the rare occurrence (but explosive
consequences) of symbiosis with cereals; the new dynamic of sociocultural
change. Dr. Andrew Sherratt (Ashmolean Museum, Oxford)
Friday 14 February 15. Early state formation and increasing social differentiation
- 5000 years ago social differences began to increase in the all-encompassing
human network spanning the Eurasian-African continent.
- In the Americas similar developments took place.
- The rise of states, of organised religion and the subsequent militarisation.
- Shifting balances between and within societies, as well as between
people and the rest of nature, including diseases.
- Phase differentials as an important criterion for structuring human
history. Dr. F. Spier (University of Amsterdam)
Tuesday 17 February 16. Rise and development of the great empires
- Increasing social differences between and within states and stateless
societies in large portions of the world.
- Increasing exchange of knowledge and of material means.
- The formation of two world-systems, one on the Eurasian-African continent
and another one in the Americas.
- The rise of world religions; the relations between churches and states;
and the persistence of local forms of worship. Dr. F. Spier (University
of Amsterdam) Prof. J. Goudsblom (University of Amsterdam)
PART 4: GLOBALISATION
Friday 21 February 17. The rise of the modern `world system'
- Changing exchange networks within and between Europe, Asia and Africa.
- Growing interstatal competition with the aid of ever more effective
- European expansion in large portions of the American continent.
- Growing exchange of domesticated plants and animals, as well as of
their unintended fellow travellers. Prof. B.A.G.M. Tromp (University of
Tuesday 24 February 18. The Rise of Modern Science
- The rapidly developing scientific ideas and practices in Western Europe.
Dr. A. Kox (University of Amsterdam)
Friday 27 February 19. Industrialisation and modernisation
- The third great ecological transformation.
- Technical, demographic, economic and socio-political aspects, among
which strongly intensifying exchange networks and shifting power and dependency
relations to the advantage of industrialising countries. Prof. N.A. Wilterdink
(State University of Utrecht, University of Amsterdam)
Tuesday 3 March 20. Expansion of industrialising societies
- The incorporation of gatherer and hunter societies, tribal societies
and pre-industrial states within the industrialising states, or within
exchange networks dominated by them.
- Increasing pressure to industrialisation, modernisation and state formation
in large parts of the world.
- Decolonisation: the disappearance of formal political influence, but
an unremitting pressure to take part in the politico-economic regime dominated
by the industrialised countries. Prof. J.C. Breman (University of Amsterdam)
Friday 6 March 21. Tendencies in contemporary global politics
- Intensifying and increasingly global exchange networks of people, goods
and knowledge lead to shifting relations within and among states.
- Globalisation of the European state model based on parliamentary democracy.
- The rise of suprastatal regimes, such as the United Nations, the European
- Counter tendencies: nationalism, regionalism, destabilisation and military
- Problems of conflict management. Prof. G. van Benthem van den Bergh
Tuesday 10 March 22. Globalisation processes: societies, cultures and
mentalities Transnational connections of migration and mass media, markets
and states. Popular culture and the world language system. Prof. P. van
der Veer (Universiteit van Amsterdam)
Friday 13 March 23. The influence of industrialisation and modernisation
on System Earth.
- Physical and social diagnosis, and solutions
- Rapidly growing population pressure.
- Large-scale exploitation of natural resources including fossil fuels.
- Increasing intensification of agriculture and animal husbandry.
- Growing refuse production.
- Increasing influence on the biosphere and atmosphere.
- Decrease of the number of wild plant and animal species, growing uniformity
of domesticated plants and animals, and increasing spread of biological
species: the formation of one global ecological system.
- How should we view "limits to growth" and "sustainable
development" within this context? Prof. L. Reijnders (University of
Amsterdam) Prof. E. Tellegen (University of Amsterdam)
Tuesday 17 March 24. Form of the past and contours of the future
- Diversity and unity in the developments, as well as in the points of
view from which the developments are approached.
- The human, planetary and cosmic time scales as organising principles.
- What can we expect for the future on each of these time scales? Prof.
J. Goudsblom (University of Amsterdam) Dr. F. Spier (University of Amsterdam)
Friday 20 March 25. Questions and evaluation Prof. J. Goudsblom and
Dr. F. Spier (University of Amsterdam)
Saturday 4 April 26. Examination
World History Association
in partnership with:
Woodrow Wilson Leadership Program in History
The Woodrow Wilson National Fellowship Foundation
CN 5281, Princeton NJ 08543-5281