When I was in university I used to love going to the talks being given on campus by visiting professors, I used to eat that stuff up. I'd always keep on eye on the posters plastered in hallways about who was lecturing and on what topic. One Friday afternoon (in about 1999) fellow Beams writer Andrew Baxter and I went to see a lecture on something called "Big History". Big History eh, hmmm, sounds intriguing enough, let's have a listen we thought. That talk blew our minds; it was like natural psychedelics, we stumbled over to the campus pub after in some sort of seriously altered state.
The field of Big History views history from "the Big Bang to the present". The whole story of the universe and life on Earth is viewed as one connected, continually unfolding event. Joseph Campbell once wrote that one of the four functions of myth was to stretch time out, to make you aware of the vast expanse of time, so that we could be broken out of our locally oriented (narcissistic) blinders and released into the wonder and magnitude of life itself. This realization can sometimes bring on the death fear tremors, but it can also open us up to a deep spiritual relationship with the sheer fact of being alive. I'm pretty sure something like that happened to me on the day I saw that lecture.
For years I'd think of Big History every once and awhile, wondering whatever happened to the movement, why it hadn't gained more traction and attention. Where'd it go? So a couple of years ago I looked it up and was pleased to hear that there were now several professors writing in the field (although an official journal has yet to be established). One book I read and would recommend is Cynthia Stokes Big History: From the Big Bang to the Present. You go from the Big Bang to globalization in 237 pages, and Stokes is all the while summarizing and synthesizing the findings of scholars from multiple disciplines, providing a stunning narrative of cosmic and then human history (and for bibliography enthusiasts like myself, this one is a goldmine). For integrally-oriented folks Big History is a great way to give flesh and girth to our understanding of the historical stages of human cultural development.
Recently one of the founders of the Big History movement, David Christian, gave a TED talk which provides a great introduction to this growing field. For an important corollary of how we can learn to live the process of Big History from the inside, see Craig Hamilton's new free teleseminar Awakening to the Call of the Cosmos: How to Align Your Life With the Impulse of Evolution.