Who is this class for: This course is aimed at anyone who would like to learn more about how the universe, Earth, life and human societies emerged and developed, and how this knowledge can help us gain a better understanding of the present and the future.

Created by:  University of Amsterdam

  • Esther Quaedackers

    Taught by:  Esther Quaedackers, Lecturer in Big History

    Institute for Interdisciplinary Studies - Faculty of Science
Commitment4 weeks of study, 3-5 hours/week
English, Subtitles: Spanish
How To PassPass all graded assignments to complete the course.
User Ratings
4.6 stars
Average User Rating 4.6See what learners said

How It Works

Each course is like an interactive textbook, featuring pre-recorded videos, quizzes and projects.

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University of Amsterdam
A modern university with a rich history, the University of Amsterdam (UvA) traces its roots back to 1632, when the Golden Age school Athenaeum Illustre was established to train students in trade and philosophy. Today, with more than 30,000 students, 5,000 staff and 285 study programmes (Bachelor's and Master's), many of which are taught in English, and a budget of more than 600 million euros, it is one of the largest comprehensive universities in Europe. It is a member of the League of European Research Universities and also maintains intensive contact with other leading research universities around the world.
Ratings and Reviews
Rated 4.6 out of 5 of 45 ratings

Antony Harper <ajdharper@gmail.com>

9:50 AM (5 minutes ago)

to E.Ouaedackers

Dear Dr. Quaedackers,

I have just finished the Coursera course, Big History: From the Big Bang until Today, and found it a very worthwhile experience. If you can bear with me, I have a few (hopefully) helpful comments; if not please metaphorically shred this email and place in the bottom of your canary cage. The canary is optional.

The course was well organized both per presentation and per weekly topic, and the tempo of the course was appropriate. Having a transcribed text to accompany each presentation was quite helpful, although at times, due to the text being voice-prompted, the accents of the various speakers produced unique spellings, initially difficult to recognize as English. [Please note that were the arrangement reversed and, say, my American English accent were to be voice-morphed into Dutch spelling, who knows what would be produced! So, this last is not a criticism but rather an observation.] In particular, I found the combination of both a narrative approach to Big History and a conceptual one, the concepts being embedded within the overall narrative, a very effective mode of presentation, especially with the ultimate expectation of students producing a Little Big History on some personally valued topic.

With regard to the presenters themselves, all come off as experts who are genuinely motivated by the nature of their fields of study and by their responsibility to present in your course. While I did not complete a head-count of the total number of presenters, it was certainly in double digits and possibly in the twenties; what a nightmare to schedule and organize! My hat is off to you and your staff on this last point. While time per presentation is of the essence and the focus of the course was well established, it would have been interesting to have each presenter, either as a portion of their presentation or as a text addendum to the presentation, comment on the perspective that Big History gives to their specific research. Moving on…….

My formal training is in biology and at the graduate level, zoology with emphasis in ecology and evolution. This last is mentioned so you can take what follows with a grain of salt, i.e. my comments are biased by my background and are unnecessarily ladened with expectation. It would have been nice if the portion of the course dealing with the history of life spent a bit more time on mechanisms, specifically with respect to recovery from mass extinctions, and it would have been equally nice if comparisons of evolved complexity of succeeding ecologies were made between mass extinctions. Penultimately, after the Permo-Triassic extinction Lystrosaurus is the only large terrestrial vertebrate to appear in the fossil record. This poses some interesting ecological problems with respect to food source, predators, pathogens, and biomass, perhaps worth some consideration in a future version of the course. [Note here that Wignall (2015) suggests a slough of extinctions occurring over 80 million years beginning just prior to the P-T boundary and extending to the end of the Triassic and into the early Jurassic. Also note that Wignall suggests that biomass recovers quite quickly while biodiversity requires significantly more time to recover. If correct, this is an interesting phenomenon associated with recovery from collapse of complex systems in general!] Finally, convergent evolution should be considered more thoroughly both in temporal sequence, e.g. Phytosaurs to Crocodilians and with respect to the convergence of adaptive radiations themselves, e.g. Marsupials v. Placentals.

In closing, your course is excellent, and I would recommend it without qualification to anyone wishing a broader perspective of who we are, where we’ve been, and where we’re going. In conjuction with your course, I purchased Prof. Spier’s Big History and the Future of Humanity and found it a very worthwhile companion. The assigned writings were excellent and the capstone project very effective. Well done here! I do however have some concerns regarding the use of multiple choice questions, particularly when the payoff for being “correct” is so heavily skewed toward making errors; reward for learning should not be so constrained. Also, the position of Big History within formal academics, something that is currently only now being established, might be a valuable discussion topic to consider in the future. Further, asking students to submit their own unanswered Big History questions at the end of the course might be enlightening to both the student population and the presenters. Beyond these few admittedly narrow concerns and as mentioned previously, this course is excellent.

Many, many thanks for a first rate educational experience,

Tony Harper

Wignall, Paul B. 2015. The Worst of Times: How Life on Earth Survived Eighty Million

Years of Extinctions. Princeton. Princeton University Press.

Very exciting course for me.

I give my deepest thanks to all the teachers who shared their knowledge in this excellent course and especially to Professor Esther Quaedackers and her principal instructor. I found the learning acquired through all the modules of the course to be very valu

Another very innovative presentation of the history of the universe. This course shows the interrelationship of the various disciplines of academic study. No single discipline can be used to explain all the history of the universe. The selection of various subject areas, and stated in the beginning not all inclusive, allowed me to see how multiple ideas can interact. Thank you for a very interesting course.