Emily Graslie hosting Big History Crash Course.
David Baker provides insight on creating and writing Big History Crash Course Series 2.
Big History Crash Course already has one series online which you also contributed to as a script writer. How did you decide what content you would cover in the second series?
Writing the second season of Crash Course required a slightly different angle. The first 10 episode series already covered, in broad brush strokes, the grand narrative of 13.8 billion years. We wanted the second series to supplement areas of the high school curriculum that students weren't quite getting. So it made sense to pick up a tactic from the Coursera MOOC Big History: Connecting Knowledge and the "Why does this matter?" segments I wrote for each module. That became the theme of the second series of Crash Course.
How did the team decide who would host the Big History Crash Course?
On the Crash Course channel, John and Hank have largely handed over the baton to a range of other hosts, some from their partnership with PBS, some brought in through their production company. In fact, Crash Course Big History season 1 was one of the last series that featured either John or Hank, and was fairly unique in that it featured them both co-hosting a series. However, Crash Course Big History already had another host. The sublimely brilliant Emily Graslie had a spot on the first series discussing complexity. She was brought in at my suggestion because of her excellent work on her Youtube channel Brainscoop, which I had been following for a while. So Emily was the obvious choice for Crash Course Big History season 2 and she did a marvelous job. She was very charismatic, coped with the more clunky aspects of my archaic prose, and read well at the traditionally rapid Crash Course pace.
What are some of your favourite subjects covered in this series of the Big History Crash Course?
The topics of this season involved some pretty weird and sometimes pretty controversial subjects. In terms of the weird, we had all sorts of "out-there" theories regarding cosmology, physics, and the future. We had a Little Big History of carbon to underline the importance of chemistry in the grand narrative. In terms of controversial, we discuss the science of human ancestry, the impact of humans on the environment, and an episode about exploration, trade, and potatoes that was deemed controversial simply because it used the term "early globalisation". The Youtube comment sections this season made for some gripping reading!
Your enthusiasm and interest in Big History is very evident in the scripts. What is it about Big History that you value so much?
Big History contributes to cultural discussions not by teaching one particular slant of things, but taking a step back and displaying the broad view of all history, and how science and human society intersect. Some of this history is nice and uplifting, some of it is not so nice and definitely not flattering. But the grand narrative tends to reach outside any particular political viewpoint or opinion and add something to the discussion rather than take something away or deny the validity of one viewpoint or another. Our goal should be to augment discussions rather than dictate where they go. And after all that is what all good history does. History should mature us as individuals and as a society. Also, as the history of collective learning teaches us, one of the most crucial keys to the success of humanity is diversity of thought. We should endeavour to facilitate that diversity of thought. Our future literally depends on it.
We really enjoyed both series of the Big History Crash Course. What kind of feedback have you received about the series?
Given these videos get shown to hundreds of thousands of people, a remarkable opportunity for an academic, I tried to put a little extra oomph into the writing. There's quite a lot of positive feedback, which is always rewarding, though sometimes it's the presenter who gets quoted! But that cuts both ways, with poor Emily catching flack, criticism, and even insults for writing that is definitely my fault. It is odd to have that shield. But one single comment this season has to be my favourite, "hats off to David Baker, credit is seldom given to the writers of these series, but it's not an easy job and that should be recognised." That single comment, combined with the fact that Big History gets beamed out to thousands of people, and that these videos can contribute to the education and growing perspectives of Generation Z, makes the whole thing worthwhile - and rather awesome.
Watch the Big History Crash Course series now.