The Great Transformations

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Course TypeCourse CodeNo. Of Credits
Foundation ElectiveSGA1EL1044

Semester and Year Offered: 2nd Semester, 1st Year

Course Coordinator and Team: Praveen Singh and Guest Faculty

Email of course coordinator:

Pre-requisites: None

Aim: The aim of the course is to introduce to students ‘big history’, the approach to history in which the human past is placed within the framework of cosmic history, from the beginning of the universe up until life on Earth today. The attempt will be to only introduce 1st year undergraduate students to major transformations witnessed by the earth. How has the history of the earth system shaped the history of the human conditions? Over the very long term, the history of a volatile and changing earth has driven biological and human evolution. This course will explore the role of nature (or natural history) in human history. This course takes very long view of the growth of human capacities, considering a continuum of adaptive change – from biological evolution to technological innovation.

Course Outcomes:

On successful completion of the course the student will be able to:

  1. Demonstrate an understanding of how the idea of the anthropocene was created over several million years;
  2. An appreciation of the ‘smallness’ of human history;
  3. To be able to analyse the inter-relatedness of life and history of different cultures and species, and gain an appreciation of a common future of human and non-human;
  4. Have a better sense of the various human artifacts (language, technology, calendars, time) that we take for granted.

Brief description of modules/ Main modules:

  1. The course is divided into seven modules; each of these will be discussed over 1-2 weeks.
  2. Introduction to Big History: What is ‘big history’ and why should we do it?
  3. Planetary movements: Seasons, calendars, time: Through the tracing of the history of the modern calendar/s and mechanical time, the module will discuss the story(ies) of the creation of the universe, the science behind planetary movements, and how humans made sense of these through modern calendars and time.
  4. Geological / Climatic Transformations on the earth: This module will discuss the creation of the earth and its atmosphere, and the natural and man-made transformations that it has undergone. The impacts of these transformations will be discussed in other modules.
  5. Biological Evolution: This module will discuss the evolution of life on earth, and specifically discuss the evolution of homo sapiens.
  6. The Great Migrations: The module will discuss migration of humans and other life forms - from ‘out of Africa’ to the 19-20th C migrations, and also analyse the cultural and biological diversity
  7. Domestication of plants and animals: neolithic revolution, arab agri revolution, British and Scottish revolution, green revolution, gene revolution.
  8. The shifts in energy regimes: history of fire; from solar based to fossil fuel based; industrial revolution
  9. Cognitive evolution: This module will discuss the evolution of intelligence and the ‘social’ man mapping the development of art, language, religion, scientific revolution, computing / Artificial Intelligence.

Assessment Details with weights:

  1. Weekly or fortnightly memo / quizzes (35%): 200-word response to the week’s discussion and/or material or quiz.
  2. Project (25%): term paper and/or multimedia project on a topic/theme of students’ interest
  3. Final examination (40%): essay-based final exam based on full semester syllabus

Reading List:

  • David Christian, Maps of Time
  • Richards, Mapping Time: The Calendar and its history
  • Cynthia Brown, Big History: From Big Bang to the Present
  • Stanley Rice, Encyclopedia of Evolution
  • Carl Zimmer, Evolution
  • Jared Diamond, Guns, Germs and Steel
  • James Scott, Against the Grain
  • Christian David, The Cambridge World History
  • Harari, Sapiens