Review and Analysis of Big History Periodization Approaches


Ken Solis
David J. LePoire


Big history may in fact be one very long “one damn thing after another,”* but even if we experience time as a continuum, dividing its expanse makes our discipline more “manageable” for psychological, teaching, research, discourse, and other reasons. Big history related books, like David Christian, Cynthia Stokes Brown, and Craig Benjamin’s 2014 textbook, Big History: Between Nothing and Everything, and several papers also often divide the time continuum into periods, but unlike other disciplines such as geology, we have no broadly agreed upon conventions for doing so. Big history pioneer, Fred Spier, in a recent JBH paper, “Thresholds of Big History – A Critical Review” (Vol 5, No. 1), criticized Christian’s “thresholds” schema for periodization and seemed skeptical of the very idea of periodization. As noted above, we believe that periodization is a worthwhile project to be undertaken, preferably by an ad hoc IBHA “working group.” We then suggest a general framework for how big history might be divided into time periods, and then anticipate some of the major challenges to developing any coherent periodization schema. So that we can better illustrate some of these challenges, we will end by taking deeper analyses of three possible big history “events” that might be used for demarcating one time period from another.


Author Biographies

Ken Solis, Member American College of Physicians, Alpha Omega Alpha medical honor society, and the Wisconsin Medical Society, retired

Ken Solis is a retired internist and ER physician with a master’s degree in bioethics. His long trips to and from work over the years also gave him many hours to listen to lectures on other fields in the sciences, philosophy, and history. By coincidence, he was teaching “A Brief History of the Universe” to adults before he encountered David Christian’s big history lectures for “The Great Courses.” His special interest in big history is what thermodynamics, information theory, and complexity science might reveal about how systems have, depending on the circumstance, progressed, regressed, and diversified over time. He has also applied these disciplines to the formulation of an information-centric ethical theory that was published in JBH.

David J. LePoire, Argonne National Laboratory

David LePoire researches, develops and applies science principles in environmental issues, Big History evolutionary trends, and particle scattering. He has a BS in physics from CalTech, a Ph.D. in computer science from DePaul University, and over thirty years’ experience at the Argonne National Laboratory in the development of scientific analyses, software, training, and modeling. His research includes Big History synergistic trends among energy, environment, organization, and information.