Skip to main navigationSkip to main content
The University of Southampton

HIST1182 BIG history: Exploring Grand Narratives about Deep Time and the Human Past

Module Overview

Big History is a way of studying the past. It has seen a recent resurgence of interest thanks to influential books like Yuval Noah Harari's Sapiens and by the pressing need to understand humanity's impact on the planet. Rather than studying specific episodes or events, particular nations or empires, or constrained periods of time, Big History takes a far broader view. It takes the long view of our human story and tries to understand the history of our species in the broadest possible terms. It tackles large questions, therefore, including: What does it mean to be human? Why have humans come to be so dominant and so destructive? What can account for the differences between human cultures and societies? Where are we headed as a species, and is there anything we can do about it?

Aims and Objectives

Learning Outcomes

Knowledge and Understanding

Having successfully completed this module, you will be able to demonstrate knowledge and understanding of:

  • To begin to develop an understanding of the aims of Big History
  • To be able to identify the salient features of some key examples of Big History
  • To be able to show a developing aptitude for describing and evaluating the aims, uses, and shortcomings of Big History
  • To be able to describe and begin to engage with critical evaluations of specific examples of Big History
Subject Specific Intellectual and Research Skills

Having successfully completed this module you will be able to:

  • Engage in a programme of independent reading guided by the module convener, building knowledge from set texts (the required reading for weekly sessions) and from directed extended study (drawing primarily from reading lists of suggested further reading).
  • To develop the skills of selective and discerning reading and note-taking - using questions suggested in the module handbook or via BlackBoard to focus on and extract information about key ideas, themes, debates or arguments in any given week's reading and applying those skills to research and revision for assessments.
  • Developing the skills required to organise ideas and research findings into effective written work, in the form of commentaries, or essays written as coursework or under exam conditions. This can include developing aptitudes concerned with clarity of expression, organising ideas, and judicious choices about what quotations or information to include to illustrate an argument.
Transferable and Generic Skills

Having successfully completed this module you will be able to:

  • Research: developing skills of reading and information retrieval that may be applied to a variety of other tasks
  • Analysis: developing analytical skills, prioritising and making sense of interpretations or information, that may be applied to a variety of tasks
  • Communication: develop coherent and confident methods of self-expression, in writing, that may be applied to a variety of situations or tasks
  • Managing learning and time effectively, meeting deadlines


The module provides students with an introduction to Big History. Some of the lectures will provide examples of Big History in action: providing an outline of the story of our species in the wider contexts of the universe and of life on Earth. Other parts of the module, including the seminars, will look at particular examples of historians and other academics who have 'done' Big History, with particular emphasis on especially influential and controversial 'Big History' books. Examples may include: - Jared Diamond and Guns, Germs, and Steel - Yuval Noah Harari and Sapiens - David Christian and Origin Story - Mark Maslin and Simon L. Lewis and The Human Planet

Learning and Teaching

Teaching and learning methods

Teaching methods include - Lectures - Seminars Learning activities include - Independent reading using resources available in the library - Note-taking in lectures - Active participation in seminars - Using reading lists provided by the module convener to guide reading and preparation for weekly seminars. Students will be expected to make contributions to seminar discussions based on preparatory reading.

Completion of assessment task20
Guided independent study30
Preparation for scheduled sessions40
Wider reading or practice18
Total study time150

Resources & Reading list

Robin Dunbar. Human Evolution. 

Yuval Noah Harari. Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind. 

Simon L. Lewis and Mark A. Maslin. The Human Planet: How We Created the Anthropocene. 

Bruce Hood. The Domesticated Brain. 

Bill McGuire. Global Catastrophes: A Very Short Introduction. 

David Christian. Origin Story: A Big History of Everything. 

Jonathan Gottschall. The Storytelling Animal: How Stories Make Us Human. 

Lewis Dartnell. Origins: How the Earth Made Us. 

Richard Wrangham. Catching Fire: How Cooking Made Us Human. 

Chris Gosden. Prehistory: A Very Short Introduction. 

Charles C. Mann. 1493: How Europe's Discovery of the Americas Revolutionized Trade, Ecology and Life on Earth. 

James C. Scott. Against the Grain: A Deep History of the Earliest States. 

Clive Gamble, John Gowlett, Robin Dunbar. Thinking Big: How the Evolution of Social Life Shaped the Human Mind. 

Jared Diamond. Guns, Germs, and Steel. 



MethodPercentage contribution
Essay  (2000 words) 60%
Exam  (1 hours) 40%


MethodPercentage contribution
Resubmit assessments 100%

Repeat Information

Repeat type: Internal


Costs associated with this module

Students are responsible for meeting the cost of essential textbooks, and of producing such essays, assignments, laboratory reports and dissertations as are required to fulfil the academic requirements for each programme of study.

In addition to this, students registered for this module typically also have to pay for:

Books and Stationery equipment

Students are not required to buy books to study on the module. All reading will be available in the library and most essential readings digitised. But some students may choose to buy their own copies of the key text we study. Since most of those are mass-market books available in paperback and often second-hand, these should not represent a big cost to those students who choose to do this.

Please also ensure you read the section on additional costs in the University’s Fees, Charges and Expenses Regulations in the University Calendar available at

Share this module Share this on Facebook Share this on Twitter Share this on Weibo
Privacy Settings