Big History Project
Course: Big History Project > Unit 9Lesson 1: Transitions, Thresholds, and Turning Points in History | 9.0
WATCH: Unit 9 Overview
We’re on the home stretch—our ninth unit is called Acceleration, because that’s the best way to describe the course of world history once humans created technologies that could transport us across the globe in a single day, communicate in real time with anyone anywhere, and destroy whole cities with one bomb. If you think it sounds like a bit much, you’re not alone. But watching this overview video will prepare you well for the excellent lessons and activities lined up for this unit. Like what you see? This video is part of a comprehensive social studies curriculum from OER Project, a family of free, online social studies courses. OER Project aims to empower teachers by offering free and fully supported social studies courses for middle- and high-school students. Your account is the key to accessing our standards-aligned courses that are designed with built-in supports like leveled readings, audio recordings of texts, video transcripts, and more. Register today at oerproject.com!
Twitter: https://www.twitter.com/oerproject/. Created by Big History Project.
Twitter: https://www.twitter.com/oerproject/. Created by Big History Project.
Hi everyone! It’s great to see you all. As usual I’m– [Future Rachel] Rachel Hansen from the future! Wait what? You mean you’ve made improvements on the time machine that everyone remembers from Unit 2, seven months ago? [Future Rachel] I have seen the future, and I am here to introduce the long-awaited Unit 10: The Future! But this is Unit 9: Acceleration? [Future Rachel] Acceleration? I guess I got ahead of myself. See what I did there? [Future Rachel] I’ll let myself out. Hi, as you may have already gathered from the context clues, I’m Rachel Hansen, and this is Unit 9: Acceleration. We’ll start with an important word: Anthropocene. It’s a big part of this unit. But what does it mean? Well, in each stage of this course, we’ve dealt with some really big units of time. Those enormous, pre-human developments like the shifting of continents, the birth of stars, and the evolution of life, are all part of the way humans periodize history and create narratives! So again it comes down to how we know what we know. The scientific and historical evidence that opens a window on our cosmic, planetary, and human past. The term Anthropocene does kinda the same thing, but with a twist! Calling our present epoch the “Anthropocene” means that we’re thinking about future historians and future scientists. We’re guessing how they will know what they will know about our present—which will be their past. Confused? Well, here’s the thing: Anthropocene is a geological epoch, like the Holocene or the Late Jurassic. The term comes from the Greek “ánthrōpos”, meaning “human.” The Anthropocene isn’t an official epoch yet, but some geologists think it should be. They have proposed that we are now living in the Anthropocene because humanity is so impactful, so big, and moving so fast, that we have created an entirely new period of geologic time. So… yay us? Well…the term asserts that we are changing our planet in such fundamental ways that the marks we leave will be evident in the geologic layers of the Earth for eons to come. That’s a big claim. In this unit, you’ll use your claim testers to evaluate it. So, let’s take a look at where we’ve been, and then meet our last threshold as you explore how the Modern Revolution led us to our present —and think about what we can do to save our future. Unit 8 was all about how societies expanded and interconnected. For example, by the time Ibn Battuta left on his epic journey across Africa and Asia in the fourteenth century, Islamic empires dominated the lands he passed through. Arab traders in the Indian Ocean like Ibn Mājid traded goods and ideas that led to innovations in shipbuilding and navigation. Fifteenth-century European explorers benefitted from this collective learning, which allowed them to sail across the Atlantic Ocean. This is when connections suddenly became global. The plants and animals that moved from one world zone to another led to some pretty amazing foods like French fries–which actually might be Belgian or Dutch fries–pizza, gumbo, and vanilla lattes! Great, now I’m hungry! But you also discovered that the Columbian Exchange had many disastrous effects. While people in Afro-Eurasia had immunities to many diseases thanks to centuries of regional trade and crowded cities, Indigenous Americans did not. Viruses such as smallpox devastated Indigenous communities, as did European colonization. Their colonization of the Americas also led Europeans to enslave and transport over 12 million Africans across the Atlantic Ocean to work on plantations. Millions died on this voyage and after. The coming together of the four world zones and the expansion of oceanic empires led to the exchange of new plants, animals, diseases, people, and ideas. The diversity of connections created as a result helped increase human populations and speed up collective learning. Things were moving fast in the last unit, but Unit 9 covers a period when things really picked up. As networks of diverse people exchanged ideas, collective learning accelerated. And so did population. But humanity still needed one more ingredient to reach Threshold 8, and that was new energy sources. In the past 250 years, the global population has skyrocketed. And most of that growth has happened in the last 75 years. In 1750 about 800 million people lived on Earth. By 1900, the population doubled to 1.6 billion. Fifty years later, the total population grew to 2.5 billion. Seventy years after that, in 2020, there were 7.7 billion people sharing the planet. What do we have to thank for this incredibly fast rate of change? Well, this little rock, for one. It doesn’t look very appetizing, but it’s the reason we have so much food. Stay with me… In the eighteenth century, people began using fossil fuels, like that little lump of coal, to power machines. And with the addition of this missing ingredient, we finally reached our final Threshold of Increasing Complexity—the Modern Revolution. This revolution was the result of increasingly large global exchange networks coupled with new energy resources like fossil fuels. Once human societies began to industrialize, complexity increased exponentially. As populations grew so did the number of innovators. And along with people and innovations, fossil fuel consumption increased. Almost everything you use on a daily basis requires fossil fuels, and our use of them has reshaped the Earth in dramatic ways. That’s why geologists and authorities have proposed Anthropocene as the name of a new epoch. Age of the human. And I’m not sure it’s a compliment. These global transformations in collective learning, fossil fuels, and climate change have been accompanied by major social changes as well. Industrialization revolutionized how we produce and distribute the things we use. But industrialization also changed how we buy goods and accumulate wealth. People who owned the factory and business sought out new markets for their manufactured goods and designed means to collect wealth in the capitalist economic system. But the people who worked in those factories and businesses did not enjoy the same benefits as the wealthy. Life was difficult and wages were low. Governments were reluctant to place restrictions on businesses. But over time, workers joined together and fought for more rights, better conditions, and higher wages. In some regions of the world, workers fought for a revolutionary new economic system—socialism. The contrasting economic systems of capitalism and socialism continue to shape our world today. Homo sapiens have been around a long time. About 250,000 years. Most of the big changes in our communities have happened very recently. Humans only started farming about 11,000 years ago. Our societies only began industrializing in the last 250 years. Just a tiny fraction of our species’ history. When we zoom out to the timeline of Big History, our modern world is merely a blip in the history of the Universe. But things have changed drastically in that short time. Collective learning, increasing populations, and the use of fossil fuels have pushed our species into an age of acceleration. What will the next 250 years bring?! [Future Rachel] That’s my cue, for only I can tell you what is in Unit 10: The Future! Umm, I thought you knew the future? Don’t you know that they still have to get through all of Unit 9: Acceleration. [Future Rachel] Acceleration? Then speed it up! Ba-dum-bum! She does it again. Future me is no longer funny. [Future Rachel] That implies you think you’re funny now. Hey, don’t make me come over there. [Future Rachel] I dare you.