“Gravid with the ancient future”: Cloud Atlas and the Politics of Big Historyshoop


One of the striking generic features of the emerging field of Big History is a closing glance toward the future. Summed up by the title of Fred Speir’s Big History and the Future of Humanity (2010), this generic gesture shows up in the “Big History Project,” a free online course for secondary schools, whose final unit is entitled “The Future” and features Henry Louis Gates and Bill Gates offering their prognostications on the future of the earth over the next 50 years (Big).1 The concluding chapter of Daniel Lord Smail’s Deep History and the Brain, entitled “Looking Ahead,” offers this final admonition: “The deep past is also our present and our future” (202).2 The convention of turning back to the future can be explained, in part, by the environmentalist origins of the field. Big History grows out of the green politics of US sixties counter-culture, which first finds its expression in projects like the Whole Earth Catolog and Earth Day. The scale of Big History promises to bring into stark relief the environmental impact of our species on the planet.

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