Bill Gates Is Obsessed With A New Way Of Teaching History -- Here's How It Works

One of billionaire Bill Gates’ newest ventures is trying to change how students learn history by promoting an interdisciplinary approach called “Big History.”

As detailed in a recent feature in The New York Times Magazine details, Big History is a series of DVD lectures from Australian professor David Christian that offers a more holistic approach to learning. The DVD series “put forward a synthesis of history, biology, chemistry, astronomy and other disparate fields, which Christian wove together into nothing less than a unifying narrative of life on earth,” writes The Times’ Andrew Ross Sorkin.

Gates has personally invested $US10 million in the Big History Project, which has spread to about 1,200 schools since it launched in 2011.

The slide below, from a lecture Christian gave this year, shows how Big History works. Here, Christian uses Vincent Van Gogh’s “Starry Night Over the Rhone” as a platform to show how various disciplines would be combined in a Big History lesson.

As you can see, the various elements that make up the painting include:

  • Stars and Cosmos (Astronomy)
  • Planet Earth (Geology)
  • Cities, Churches, and Human Civilisation (Anthropology/History)
  • Water, Where Life Evolved (Chemistry/Biology)
  • Electric Lights = Modernity (Science/Technology)
  • You and me trying to figure out our place in the Universe!

According to Christian, all of these different elements come together to tell a full story. “This captures very nicely and very simply the ambition of Big History — to connect disciplines,” Christian says in his lecture.

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