back to: main page

Some Models of World History and Big History

by William McGaughey


This is about history at the highest level - covering the broadest range of experience. It used to be world history, the history of civilizations. Now we have “big history” which combines human and natural history. The aim of this discussion is to find a suitable design for the stories of world history and big history.

World history is an essential part of big history because its story covers part of what big history includes. This is the story of human culture, especially civilization. In the scheme of the Triple Existence, it would encompass the story of thought, both human thought and artificial intelligence. Therefore, the study of world history is relevant both to big history and to itself.

Again, the story’s design is what we are seeking to know and perhaps improve in this web site. We want to write history in the clearest and most meaningful way. Such history is a creation story. It is the story of how our world came to be.

Those with historical knowledge can use their intelligence to design a story that best describes how this world of ours came to be. However, it helps to have existing models of the story before us as we ponder this question. The budding world or big historian can pick the story or stories that most makes sense as a starting point for his or her own work.

Both fields are relatively new. World history, while imagined for centuries, did not really become organized as a field of study until the 20th century. Big history started in the last decade or two of that century. Now both fields are firmly established. However, much work remains to be done to make history a field of vigorous inquiry and expanding knowledge comparable to that in the natural sciences.

Now, let’s look at some models of history in both areas.

Some models of world history

Some existing models of world history are the following:

(a) I.S. Clare’s, Illustrated Universal History, published in 1876,

(b) H.G. Wells’ An Outline of History, published in 1920,

(c) William H. McNeill's A World History, published in 1967,

(d) Arnold Toynbee’s Mankind and Mother Earth, published in 1976,

(e) William McGaughey’s Five Epochs of Civilization, published in 2000, and

(f) Peter N. Stearns’ World History: the Basics, published in 2011


A. The story design for I.S. Clare’s, Illustrated Universal History, published in 1876:

Table of Contents:


The earliest ages - 1. Antedeluvian history, 2. The dispersion of mankind

Oriental nations - 1. China, 2. India, 3. Assyria and Babylonia, 4. Egypt, 5. Phoenicia, 6. the Hebrews or Israelites, 7. Media and Persia

History of Greece - 1. geography of ancient Greece, 2. Grecian mythology, 3. legendary period of Greece, 4. the period of the lawgivers, 5. the flourishing period of Greece, 6. the Macedonian period

History of Rome - 1. ancient Italy, 2. Rome under the kings ,3. the Roman republic, 4. the Roman empire (the reigns of the Caesars, the five good emperors, the period of military despotism, barbarian inroads and fall of the western Roman empire)


The dark ages - 1. Italy and the Byzantine empire, 2. the Angles and Saxons in Britain, 3. the Saracen empire, 4. the Frank empire, 5. barbarian ravages in Europe

European institutions - 1. the feudal system, 2. chivalry, 3. the Papacy and hierarchy, 4. monachism

The crusades - 1. the first crusade , 2. the second crusade,3. the third crusade, 4. the fourth crusade, 5. the fifth crusade, 6. the sixth crusade, 7. consequences of the crusades

Latin states - 1. Italian states, 2. kingdom of France, 3. Iberian kingdoms

Germanic states - 1. the Holy Roman empire of Germany (Carlovingian sovereigns of Germany, Germany under the Saxon and Frankish emperors, Germany under the Hohenstauffens, the interregnum, emperors of different houses,Germany under the house of Luxemburg, Germany under the house of Hapsburg), 2. the kingdom of England (England under the Saxon and Danish kings, England under the Norman dynasty, England under the Plantagenets, England under the house of Lancaster, England under the house of York, England under the house of Tudor, 3. the Scandinavian kingdoms

Slavonic states - 1. the kingdom of Poland, 2. the Russian or Muscovite empire

Tartaric states - 1. the kingdom of Hungary, 2. the Mogul and Ottoman empires

Discoveries - 1. important inventions, 2. the sea-passage of India, 3. the discovery of America


Sixteenth century - 1. age of Charles V and Henry VIII (the wars between Charles V and Francis I, the religious war in Germany, the Reformation in England, the Reformation in the Scandinavian kingdoms, the Society of Jesuits, Spanish conquests in America, Persia and India), 2. age of Phillip II and Elizabeth (Spain and Portugal, the war of independence in the Netherlands, civil and religious wars in France, Elizabeth of England and Mary of Scotland)

Seventeen century - 1. the thirty years’ war (causes and origin of the war, Palatine period, Danish period, Swedish period, French period of the war), 2. the English revolution (England under the house of Stuart, the Commonwealth of England, the restored house of Stuart), 3. the wars of Louis XIV (France under Richelieu and Mazarin, the government and wars of Louis XIV) 4. the Anglo-American colonies (Virginia, Massachusetts, New York, New Hampshire, Maryland, Connecticut, Rhode Island, Delaware, North and South Carolina, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Georgia)

Eighteenth century - 1. the age of Peter the Great and Charles VI (the war of the Spanish succession, the northern war, general affairs of Europe, Persia and India) , 2. the age of Frederick the Great and Catherine II (the war of the Austrian succession, the seven years’ war, 3. the Anglo-French colonial wars (French settlements in North America, KingWilliam’s wars, Queen Anne’s wars, the French and Indian war, the war of the American revolution), 4. the French revolution (causes of the revolution, the period of the French National Assembly, the French republic under the National Convention, the French republic under the Directorate)

Nineteenth century - 1. the government and wars of Napoleon Bonaparte (Napoleon as first consul of the French republic, Napoleon as emperor of the French, the restored Bourbons and the hundred days) 2. political revolutions in Europe condition of Europe after Bonaparte’s fall, European revolutions of 1820 and 1821, the Greek revolution, European revolutions of 1830 and 1831, English reforms, the Spanish civil war of 1833-39, dissensions in Turko-Egyptian empire, growth of the Anglo-Indian empire, European revolutions of 1848 and 1849), 3. the latest wars and revolutions (the coup d’etat of Louis Napoleon, the Crimean war, the Sepoy mutiny in British India, the Italian war, the Italian revolution of 1860 and 1861, the Greek revolution of 1861, the Polish insurrection of 1 862-1864, Russian serf emancipation, the Schlewig-Holstein war of 1864, the seven weeks’ war, English reforms, the Spanish revolution of 1868, the Franco-German war, the Italian revolution of 1870, the French civil war of 1871, the Spanish revolution of 1873, recent affairs of European nations) 4. the Spanish American republics (the spanish American war of independence,South America since the revolution, the republic of the United States of Mexico)


The American Revolution, (causes of the revolution, the war of American independence, the constitution of the United States), 2. the growing American union (Washington’s administration, John Adams’ administration, Jefferson’s administration, Madison’s administration, Monroe’s administration, John Quincy Adams’ administration, Jackson’s administration, Van Buren’s administration, Harrison and Tyler’s administration, Polk’s administration), 3. Slavery agitation and the Civil War (Taylor’s and Fillmore’s administration, Pierce’s administration, Buchanan’s administration, Lincoln’s administration, Johnson’s administration, Grant’s administration), the new states, a historical retrospect, the centennial exhibition

How the story unfolds:

One notices that this “universal” history retains the traditional three-part scheme of western history in which the story is told of “ancient history”, “the middle ages”, and “modern history”. Two book ends, “the earliest ages”, and “history of the first hundred years of the United States”, surround the main story. One should keep in mind that this book was published in 1876 when the Centennial Exhibition of the United States was being held in Philadelphia. It would seem that history as a whole reached its apex in that event.

This book is largely a political history. It is the story of dynasties within nations and empires that existed at various times. Rome was, of course, the great empire of western peoples as a whole. Ancient history ends when the western Roman empire fell in 476 A.D. But classical Greece was a cultural predecessor of Roman culture so that its history is also given much space. To a lesser extent, the Biblical history of the Israelites also merits attention as a people who flourished in ancient times.

Medieval history concerns the political landscape after the west Roman empire fell. The barbarian tribes that overthrew Rome are discussed in this section. So are the Muslims who created a great empire during this time as well as dynasties of the Frankish empire. Somewhat uncharacteristically, medieval history also includes social institutions such as chivalry and the feudal system. The seven crusades summoned by the Pope against Islamic rulers of Jerusalem also merit attention. Other than these, the history of the middle ages is largely a series of dynastic histories in Italy, France, Germany, England, and eastern Europe. The Portuguese and Spanish voyages of discovery mark a transition into modern times.

Modern history has a peculiar structure based on chronology: the 16th, 17th, 18th, and 19th centuries. The 16th century is shaped by struggles between Spanish and English kings (Charles V and Henry VIII) and their immediate successors, Philip II and Elizabeth I. The 17th century is shaped by the 30 years’ war, the English revolution, wars involving the French king Louis XIV, and England’s American colonies. The 18th century is shaped by a series of military struggles: the war of the Spanish succession, the war of the Austrian succession, the seven years’ war, Anglo-French colonial wars, and the French revolution.

The story of the French emperor Napoleon kicks off the 19th century. The remaining part of this century is dominated by numerous political revolutions, reforms, or civil wars, and by political events in Spain’s American colonies. The history of the United States of America, beginning with the American Revolutionary war, is largely the story of successive presidential administrations.

Apart from European and American political events, this history feels obliged to include something about the beginning of human society under the heading of “antedeluvian history”, which means before the flood which Noah survived. After the flood, humans repopulated the earth. All this Biblical narrative is covered in one page. The histories of nonwestern peoples such as the Chinese, Indians, Assyrians, Babylonians, Egyptians, and Phoenicians are covered in five pages. The Israelite history merits five pages; and ancient Persian history, one page.

If important events in nonwestern societies in ancient times are neglected in this universal history, the reigns of 25 different Roman emperors lasting from 180 A.D. to 364 A.D. are covered in an eight-page section titled “the period of military despotism”. Constantine the Great, an important figure in the history of Christianity, is included among this group of emperors. His career merits one page.


B. The story design for H.G. Wells’ An Outline of History, published in 1920

Table of Contents:

Chapter I The earth in time and space
Chapter II The record of the rocks
Chapter lll Natural selection and the changes of species
Chapter IV The invasion of the dry land by life
Chapter V Changes in the world’s climate
Chapter Vl The age of reptiles
Chapter Vll The age of mammals
Chapter Vlll The ancestry of man
Chapter IX The Neanderthal men, an extinct race
Chapter X The later postglacial palaeolithic men, the first true men
Chapter XI Neolithic man in Europe
Chapter XII Early thought
Chapter Xlll The races of mankind
Chapter XIV The languages of mankind
Chapter XV The Aryan-speaking peoples in prehistoric times
Chapter XVl The first civilizations
Chapter XVll Sea peoples and trading peoples
Chapter XVlll Writing
Chapter XIX Gods and stars, priests and kings
Chapter XX Serfs, slaves, social classes, and free individuals
Chapter XXI The Hebrew scriptures and the prophets
Chapter XXII The Greeks and the Persians
Chapter XXlll Greek thought and literature
Chapter XXIV The career of Alexander the Great
Chapter XXV Science and religion at Alexandria
Chapter XXVl The rise and spread of Buddhism
Chapter XXVll The two western republics
Chapter XXVlll From Tiberias Gracchus to the God emperor in Rome
Chapter XXIX The Caesars between the sea and the great plains of the Old World
Chapter XXX The beginnings, the rise, and the divisions of Christianity
Chapter XXXl Seven centuries in Asia (circa 50 B.C. to A.D. 650)
Chapter XXXII Muhammad and Arab Islam
Chapter XXXlll Christendom and the Crusades
Chapter XXXIV The great empire of Jengis Khan and his successors
Chapter XXXV The Renaissance of western Christendom
Chapter XXXVl Princes, parliaments, and powers
Chapter XXXVll The new democratic republics of America and France
Chapter XXXVlll The career of Napoleon Bonaparte
Chapter XXXIX The realities and imagination of the Nineteenth Century. The increase of knowledge and clear thinking. The nationalist phase.
Chapter XL The international catastrophe of 1914 and the close of the great power period
Chapter XLl Man’s coming of age. The probable struggle for the unification of the world into one community of knowledge and will

How the story unfolds:

The two-volume Outline of History is more than a world history. It also includes elements of Big History in the first fifteen chapters. Chapters 1, 2, and 5 briefly discuss the formation of earth as a planet in space and the earth’s geological history as these events were known in Wells’ time. Chapters 3 through 7 describe the development of life on earth. Chapter 8 and 9 tell how the human and Neanderthal species evolved. Chapter 10 through 15 are concerned with prehistoric culture including the early inhabitants of Europe, the races of humanity, languages, and religions. It is with chapter 16, titled “the first civilizations”, that world history proper begins.

While the civilizations of India and China are mentioned, this is really a world history from a European point of view. We have the distant civilizations of Egypt, Mesopotamians, Assyrians, and Babylonians in the foreground. Then come the classical civilizations of antiquity: Judea, Greece, and Rome. The west Roman empire collapses and the Christian church takes its place. The religion of Jesus moves to center stage. The first millennium histories of Persia, Byzantium, Islam, India, and China are covered in a single chapter titled “seven centuries in Asia” (chapter 31) There does seem to be ethnocentric bias in Wells’ history, though less than in the previous model.

Chapter 32 is about the Islamic religion; and Chapter 34, about the Mongol empire. Other than this, Chapter 33 and Chapters 35 through 40 are almost entirely about the western societies of Europe and America. Despite discussions of the Renaissance and the Industrial Revolution, this history is also focused largely upon political events. World War I brings this history to a close. (Wells published his book in 1920.) The concluding chapter speculates upon the possibility of world government as a device to end wars. Wells conceives of progress in those terms. He does not concern himself with the rise of corporations or the entertainment culture.

This history, like others, is largely in chronological order. Wars, migrations, revolutions, and other political events make up a large part of the story. Napoleon and Alexander the Great (but not Julius Caesar) rate separate chapters. Even so, Wells is relatively sensitive to cultural issues such as the impact of writing or of certain ideas. He is more apt to discuss personalities such as Charlemagne and emperor Frederick II. He is less concerned with institutions arising in society or with events in nonwestern societies.


C. The story design for William H. McNeill' s A World History, published in 1967

Table of Contents:

Part I Emergence and Definition of the Major Eurasian Civilizations to 500 B.C.

i. In the beginning - the earliest men, ecological influences, changes brought by agriculture, the earliest civilization, Sumerian inventions, writing, irrigation, military force and monarchy

ii. Diffusion of Civilization: First Phase to 1700 B.C. - pastoralism, the plow, Egyptian civilization, the Old Kingdom, the Middle Kingdom, the Indus civilization, Mesopotamian civilization, transition to rain-watered lands, sea-borne civilization, southeast Asia and the Americas

iii. Cosmopolitanism in the Middle East 1700 - 500 B.C. - technique of chariot warfare, three middle eastern empires, the iron age, effects of iron, the cavalry revolution, the Persian empire, the techniques of empire, alphabetic writing, the rise of monotheism, early Judaism, Zoroastrianism

iv. The Definition of Indian Civilization to 500 B.C. - shift to the Ganges, caste, transcendental religion, the Vedas and Brahmanas, the Upanishads and mysticism, Jainism and Buddhism

v. The Definition of Greek Civilization to 500 B.C. - the city-state, colonization and trade, effects of the phalanx, dominance of the polis in Greek culture, limitations of the polis

vi. The Definition of Chinese Civilization to 500 B.C. - the Shang dynasty, the Chou dynasty, Confucianism and Taoism

vii. Changes in the Barbarian World 1700 to 500 B.C. - the Mediterranean, eastward from the steppes, summary

Part II Equilibrium among the Civilizations 500 B.C. - A.D. 1500

viii. The Flowering of Greek Civilization 500 B.C. - A.D. 1500 - effect of Athenian naval warfare, the classical age, drama, philosophy; science, rhetoric, history; architecture and sculpture, social change after the Peloponnesian war

ix. The Spread of Hellenistic Civilization 500 B.D. to A.D. 200 - Macedonian conquest, Greek emigration, religious changes, Hellenistic sciences and arts, the rise of Rome, breakdown of the Republic, Hellenism in the Roman empire, Christianity

x. Asia, 500 B.C. - A.D. 200 - the Mauryan empire of India, the unification of China, governments in central Asia, changes in warfare and trade, developments in the arts, new cosmopolitan religions, diseases and empires

xi. The Flowering and Expansion of Indian Civilization A.D. 200 - 600 - the Gupta empire, Sanskrit literature, Gupta art, Eastern spread of Indian civilization, Buddhist missions to the Far East, Indian influence upon the west

xii. Barbarian Invasions and Civilized Response A.D. 200 - 600 - the Huns and western steppe, steppe peoples of the east, reactions to the barbarians in China and Iran, the Sassanian empire, Sassanian religion, the Byzantine empire, heresy and orthodoxy

xiii. The Rise of Islam - the life of Mohammed, Arab conquest and the Ommayad caliphate, Moslem scripture and sacred law, Arab court life and culture, the Abbasid empire

xiv. China, India, and Europe A.D. 600 - 1000 - China, India, Europe, the beginnings of feudalism, the decay of learning, summary

xv. The Impact of Turkish and Mongol Conquests 1000 - 1500 - the Turkish infiltration, the Mongol conquest, the Ottoman empire, Islam- the Sufi movement, fine arts, India - changes in Hinduism, China - the triumph of tradition

xvi. Medieval Europe and Japan 1000 - 1500 - medieval Europe, Europe’s economic consolidation, cultural consolidation, Japan

xvii. The Fringes of the Civilized World to 1500 - sub-Saharan Africa, the Americas

Part III The Dominance of the West

xviii. The Great Discoveries and their World-Wide Consequences - voyages of exploration, the price revolution, American food crops, the spread of diseases, European knowledge and inventiveness

xix. Europe’s Self-Transformation 1500 - 1648 - political developments, international politics, European colonization and trade, the Renaissance, the Reformation, the growth of science, emergence of cultural pluralism

xx. Europe’s Outliers: Russia and the Americas 1500 - 1648 - the rise of Moscow, western influence - political turmoil, western influence - cultural change, Spanish America, other European colonists

xxi. The Realm of Islam, with its Hindu and Christian Subject Communities, 1500 - 1700 - the Islamic sphere of influence, inroads of European commerce, the Shi’a revolt, intellectual retreat and artistic advance

xxii. The Far East, 1500 - 1700 - the Ming and Manchu dynasties in China, prosperity and conservatism in China, Hideyoshi and the Tokugawa shoguns of Japan

xxiii. The Old Regime in Europe 1648 - 1789 - reliance on professions, limited wars, balancing international interests, English parliamentarianism, Prussian militarism, advances in agriculture and technology, mathematics and sciences; the arts, classical and romantic; roots of European dominance

xxiv. The Americas and Russia 1648 - 1789 - comparison between America and Russia, competition for the Americas, the magnificence of Spanish America,backwardness versus precocity in the colonies, the modernization of Russia, Russia arrives as a great power

xxv. Asian Reactions to Europe’s Old Regime 1700 - 1850 - the Islamic world on the defensive, the Wahhabi movement, the failure of reform, British control of India, Iran and Turkestan, Hindu reform, the Christian Balkans, Christian missions in China, opening China to European trade, social tensions in Japan

xxvi. The Transformation of Western Civilization by the Industrial Revolution and Democratic Revolutions 1789 - 1917 - the old gives way to the new, the industrial revolution, consequences of the industrial revolution, the democratic revolution in France, democratic revolution in the rest of Europe, deliberate social change and popular government, intellectual and cultural revolutions, revolutions in the arts

xxvii. The Non-Western World Since 1850 - two world transformations, impact upon Africa and Oceania, the Asian civilizations, Islam’s reactions to western dominance, the Balkan Christians, the Hindus, China’s response to western dominance, Japan’s westernization

xxviii. The Western World Since 1917 - the communist challenge, muddled liberalism, the neo-fascist movement, World War II, post-war conflicts and co-operation

How the story unfolds:

William McNeill was writing at a time when western history was giving way to world history. After World War I, western historians were beginning to realize that the old histories of humanity had neglected important events and developments in the nonwestern world and they tried to correct that situation.

Even so, McNeill’s A World History betrays growing pains. It seems that nonwestern history has been added onto the traditional model of (western) history. Indeed, Part III is focused upon western (European) domination of the world.

Structurally, McNeill’s book goes by regions and periods. For example, Part I looks successively at developments in the Middle East, India, Greece, and China until 500 B.C. before barbarians intrude upon civilized society. Then, in Part II, McNeill discusses events in the Greco-Roman world (the cradle of western civilization) from 500 B.C. to 200 A.D. and in India from 200 to 500 A.D. Barbarian invasions between 200 and 600 A.D. and the rise of Islam are described in separate chapters. Then comes the histories of China, India, and Europe between 600 and 1000 A.D. Another segment, between 1000 and 1500 A.D. highlights Turkish and Mongol invasions, medieval Europe and Japan, and so-called “fringes of the civilized world” - southeast Asia, sub-Saharan Africa, and the Americas.

Part III tells how, after 1500 A.D., the European nations first explored and then colonized other parts of the world. The focus here is on political (government-centered) developments although non-political events such as the scientific and industrial revolutions, which help explain European dominance, also enter this history, as do artistic and literary accomplishments by Europeans. Although outside western Europe, Russia and Japan gain a fair share of attention. The great political revolutions of North America, France, and Russia between 1776 and 1917 are focal points of this history.

I have tended to associate McNeill with trade practices, cultural exchanges and globalization. Some of that is here although, for the most part, A World History is a collection of separate regional histories in discrete periods of time.

McNeill writes of “the uncertainty and open-endedness of cultural interactions between Western and non-Western mankind ... there will surely be blending and intermingling of cultures, as there has always been in the past ... Yet, in any foreseeable future the Western component of the mixture seems certain to be dominant.” That was written in 1965. Fifty years later, such a statement would be considered both inaccurate and politically incorrect.

D. The story design for Arnold Toynbee’s world history, Mankind and Mother Earth, published in 1976:

Table of Contents:

Chapter 1 Riddles in the phenomena
Chapter 2 The biosphere
Chapter 3 The descent of man
Chapter 4 The Oikoumene
Chapter 5 Technological revolutions c. 70,000/40,000 B.C. - 3000 B.C.
Chapter 6 The opening-up of the Tigris-Euphrates alluvium and the creation of Sumerian civilization
Chapter 7 The opening-up of the Nilotic alluvium and the creation of the pharaonic Egyptian civilization
Chapter 8 Sumer and Akkad, c. 3000-2230 B.C.
Chapter 9 Pharaonic Egypt, c. 3000 - 2230 B.C.
Chapter 10 The ecumenical horizon, c. 2500 - 2000 B.C.
Chapter 11 The old-world Oikoumene, c. 2140 - 1730 B.C.
Chapter 12 The domestication of the horse and the invention of pastoral nomadism on the Eurasian steppe
Chapter 13 Relations between regional civilizations, c. 1730 - 1250 B.C.
Chapter 14 The Volkerwanderung in the old world c. 1250 - 950 B.C.
Chapter 15 The emergence of the ‘Olmec’ civilization in Meso-America
Chapter 16 The Sumero-Akkadian wold and Egypt, c. 950 - 745 B.C.
Chapter 17 The Syrian civilization, c. 1191 - 745 B.C.
Chapter 18 The Hellenic civilization, c. 1050 - 750 B.C.
Chapter 19 The Indian (Hindu) civilization, c. 1000 - 600 B.C.
Chapter 20 The Chinese civilization, 1027 - 506 B.C.
Chapter 21 The Meso-American and Andean civilizations, c. 800 - 400 B.C.
Chapter 22 The final bout of Assyrian militarism, 745 - 605 B.C., and the contemporary eruption from the steppes
Chapter 23 The aftermath of Assyrian militarism, 605 - 522 B.C.
Chapter 24 The Hellenic civilization, c. 750 - 507 B.C.
Chapter 25 New departures in spiritual life, c. 600 - 480 B.C.
Chapter 26 The first Persian empire, c. 550 - 330 B.C.
Chapter 27 The confrontation between the first Persian empire and the Hellenic world, c. 499 - 330 B.C.
Chapter 28 The Hellenic civilization’s cultural achievements, c. 478 - 338 B.C.
Chapter 29 The political aftermath of Alexander’s overthrow of the first Persian empire, 329 - 221 B.C.
Chapter 30 The development and dissemination of the Hellenic civilization, 334 - 221 B.C.
Chapter 31 The warring states of China, c. 506 - 221 B.C.
Chapter 32 The competing philosophies of China, 506 - 221 B.C.
Chapter 33 The Indian civilization, 600 - 200 B.C.
Chapter 34 The struggle for the mastery of the western basin of the Mediterranean, 600 - 221 B.C.
Chapter 35 The Ch’in and western Han imperial regimes in China, 221 B.C. - 9 A.D.
Chapter 36 The Mediterranean basin, south-west Asia, and India, 221 B.C. - 48 A.D.
Chapter 37 The Chinese, Kushan, Parthian, and Roman empires, 31 B.C. - 220 A.D.
Chapter 38 The interplay of religions and philosophies in the old-world Oikoumene, 334 B.C. - 220 A.D.
Chapter 39 The Meso-American and Andean civilizations, c. 400 B.C. - 300 A.D.
Chapter 40 The western end of the old-world Oikoumene, c. 220 - 395 A.D.
Chapter 41 The Indian civilization, c. 224 - 490 A.D.
Chapter 42 The eruption of the Huns from the Eurasian steppe in the fourth and fifth centuries, A.D.
Chapter 43 The Roman and Persian empires, c. 395 - 628 A.D.
Chapter 44 Western Christendom, 395 - 634
Chapter 45 The establishment and disruption of the Christian church, 312 - 657
Chapter 46 The Indian civilization, 490 - 647
Chapter 47 The political disruption of China and her reception of Buddhism, 220 - 589
Chapter 48 The Meso-American and Andean civilizations, 300 - 900
Chapter 49 The prophet and statesman Muhammad, c. 570 - 632
Chapter 50 The expansion of the Islamic state, 633 - 750
Chapter 51 The rejuvenation of the East Roman empire, 628 - 726
Chapter 52 Western Christendom, 634 - 756
Chapter 53 Eastern Asia, 589 - 763
Chapter 54 The Islamic world, 750 - 945
Chapter 55 The Byzantine civilization, 726 - 927/8
Chapter 56 Western Christendom, 756 - 911
Chapter 57 The eruption of the Scandinavians, 793 - 1000
Chapter 58 India and south-east Asia, 647 - 1202
Chapter 59 Eastern Asia, 763 - 1126
Chapter 60 The Meso-American and Andean civilization, c. 900 - 1428
Chapter 61 The Islamic world, 945 - 1110
Chapter 62 The Byzantine world, 927/8 - 1071
Chapter 63 Western Christendom, 911 - 1099
Chapter 64 The Islamic world, 1110 - 1291
Chapter 65 The Byzantine world, 1071 - 1240
Chapter 66 Western Christendom, 1099 - 1321
Chapter 67 Eastern Asia, 1126 - 1281
Chapter 68 The Mongols and their successors
Chapter 69 The Islamic world, 1291 - 1555
Chapter 70 Eastern Orthodox Christendom, 1321 - 1563
Chapter 71 Western Christendom, 1321 - 1563
Chapter 72 South-east Asia, 1190 - 1644
Chapter 73 Eastern Asia, 1281 - 1644
Chapter 74 The Meso-American and Andean civilizations, 1428 - 1519
Chapter 75 The coalescence of the Oikoumene, 1405 - 1652
Chapter 76 The western civilization, 1563 - 1763
Chapter 77 Eastern Orthodox Christendom, 1556 - 1768
Chapter 78 The Islamic world, 1555 - 1768
Chapter 79 Eastern Asia, 1644 - 1839
Chapter 80 The biosphere, 1763 - 1871
Chapter 81 The biosphere 1871 - 1973
Chapter 82 A retrospect in 1973

How the story unfolds:

Arnold Toynbee tells the story of human civilization in a peculiar way. As the scheme of chapters suggests, the story is basically in chronological order but it shifts from one place to another. That is because the story of civilization is not the progression of a single civilization but of several different ones that are separated geographically and culturally from one another.

Starting with Mesopotamia (Sumer) and Egypt, we move into several different regional cultures in the first millennium B.C.: Judea, Greece, India, China, and the New World cultures of central and south America. Each place requires a separate chapter to tell its history during a particular period of time.

Later the focus of world history shifts to religions and political empires. The Assyrian, Persian, Greek, and Roman empires each take a turn on center stage. Chapter 37 tells how four empires dominated the Old World until the early third century A.D. After Rome fell in the west, the east (Byzantine) Romans and Sasanian Persians were locked in mortal combat until the armies of Islam threatened both. China meanwhile was developing a more durable empire, or series of empires, starting in the third century B.C. The eruption of the Huns and other tribes in the mid first millennium A.D. put an end to the age of political empires.

Chapter 25, “New Departures in Spiritual Life”, introduced an age of religion. Buddha was the first founder of a world religion; then, Jesus of Nazareth; and finally Muhammad, who brought monotheistic religion to the Arabs. The different religions then developed institutional structures and formed alliances with states. Religion was the dynamic force in human culture during this time. Meanwhile, the east Roman empire, linked to orthodox Christianity, hung on for another thousand years while being attacked by Muslims. Smaller empires rose and fell in the New World. China radiated both political and cultural influence. India remained religiously and politically divided as Muslim kings invaded from the north. The periphery of eastern and southeastern Asia fell under either Indian or Chinese influence. The Mongols threatened several civilized communities simultaneously.

Toynbee’s history is thus focused upon religion and politics to an inordinate degree, mostly between the third millennium B.C. and the mid second millennium A.D. Prehistoric culture is covered in chapter 5 under the heading of “technological revolutions, c. 70,000/40,000 B.C. - 3000 B.C.” Post-Renaissance Europe is covered in chapters 71 and 76. On the other hand, Toynbee does take pains to explain how human civilization is embedded in the biosphere and is vulnerable to self-destructive practices. Chapters about man’s relationship to “mother earth” surround the chapters on civilization like two book ends.

Toynbee says little about commercial or educational institutions and next to nothing about the entertainment culture of the 20th century. His history is bound to the print world rather than to the world of electronic communication. Also, this world history neglects the African continent perhaps because it was on the periphery of large political and religious empires. Unlike some other world histories, there is little sense of progress toward a particular end. Otherwise, Mankind and Mother Earth, is a comprehensive and highly informative narrative of human history.


E. The story design for William McGaughey’s Five Epochs of Civilization, published in 2000:

Table of Contents:

Chapter 1 In search of a pattern in world history - about historical knowledge, competition for space in books of history, an example of a biased history, population as a guide to historical coverage, a division into parts, toward a definition of epochs, nonwestern peoples’ histories, religious histories, Hegel’s scheme of historical progress, theories of historical recurrence, Spengler’s history, Toynbee’s theory of civilizations, a critique of Toynbee’s scheme, common elements in world culture, changing cultural technologies as a guide to historical elements

Chapter 2 Institutions differentiating within society - an analogy, division into casts and classes, a summary of this history, detachment of government in the first epoch, detachment of world religion in the second epoch, detachment of education and commerce in the third epoch, detachment of news and entertainment in the fourth epoch

Chapter 3 Personality and belief - religion in a broad sense, personality and belief, primitive religion, religion in the first civilization, religion in the second civilization, religion in the third civilization, religion in the fourth civilization, religion in the fifth civilization, changing holidays

Chapter 4 A short history of Civilization I - prehistoric times, the earliest civilized societies, the first mideastern empires, nomadic invasions, militarism in the middle east, Rome’s emergence as a world power, Hunnish and Scandinavian eruptions, continuation of the Roman empire in the east, Parthian, Kushan, and Sasanian empires, India, China, east and southeast Asia, pre-Columbian America

Chapter 5 A short history of Civilization II - a change in religion, the monotheism of Ikhnaton and Moses, Zoroastrian influence, Jews under foreign rule, early Christianity, development of the western church, power of the Roman church, orthodox Christianity, the later Persian religions, the religion of Islam, Islamic empires, the Hindu and Buddhist religions, the spread of Indian religion to lands outside India

Chapter 6 A short history of Civilization III - special circumstances: its origin in Europe, thawing religious culture, the seeing revolution, Luther’s protest, commercial rivalry between the north Atlantic nations, colonial trade, trade competition in the industrial age, the labor movement, education, national histories, democracy and revolution, the unraveling of western colonialism, materialism and disintegration

Chapter 7 A short history of Civilization IV - a weight lifted from our cultural shoulders, some difficulties in telling this history, amateur and professional sports, other entertainment in 19th century America, racial overtimes, black-flavored white singers, productions on the Broadway stage, the movies, radio broadcasting, television, sports broadcasts, gambling, narrowcasting, computer-generated entertainment

Chapter 8 The impact of cultural technologies upon public experience
- a conversation with Socrates, qualitative changes in an expression, a series of cultural technologies, the prehistoric culture of memory, two opinions of illiteracy, ideographic writing, how alphabetic writing might have inspired advancements in philosophy and religion, printing and the individual author, impact of the electronic image, a clash of political messages, the new ideal of rhythm, computer links

Chapter 9 A short history of cultural technologies - how writing began, diffusion of ideographic writing, alphabetic writing, spread of alphabetic scripts, printing, photography, the telegraph, the telephone, motion pictures, radio, television, computers

Chapter 10 Using world history to predict the future - why history does not repeat itself, prediction through analogy with previous cultures, some observations of past civilizations, movements to the opposite, synchronized political leadership, effect of changing civilizations, some questions about this process, a connection with social structures, some anomalies, the timing of new civilizations, the organic life cycle, golden cities, signs of quickening culture, an environment of parochial contentiousness and commercial contact, mathematical and commercial innovations, perceptions of a wider world

Chapter 11 Intimations of a fifth civilization - shape of the computer age, the nature of computers and related projections, employment implications, modeling the natural world, selling by computer, education and training, prediction by analogy, new ways of deciding to buy computer products, computerized teaching, knowledge alienated from workers, rethinking college, the idea of a university, the quest of self-definition, the possibility of catastrophe, the Frankenstein civilization

How the story unfolds:

This is a book of world history. As conceived here, world history is the story of civilization. It excludes events that happened before civilized societies appeared or in tribal societies outside of civilization. It also excludes natural history. Essentially, civilized societies are those that have written language. History is the story of events that are known from those written records; and world history includes events happening in literate societies throughout the earth.

This particular book tells the history of civilized societies in chapters 4 through 8. Chapter 11 continue the story into the future to the extent that this was unknown at the time of writing. Chapter 2 is also part of the history; it describes events at the beginning of each civilization - their creation story, so to speak.

The remaining five chapters are about the historiography of this book. Chapter 1 discusses broadly how world history should be written, using Toynbee as a principal illustration. Chapter 3 identifies the “religion” of each civilization. Personality and belief are two principal aspects of religion. Chapters 8 and 9 explain the role of “cultural technologies” (communication technologies) in this history. Chapter 9 tells how those technologies were invented or developed. Chapter 8 describes the relationship between the technologies and institutions in society. Chapter 10 tries to predict when a new civilization will arise. What conditions are typically present?

But, again, the story itself appears in chapters 4 through 8, with chapter 11 being an anticipation of how the story will continue. In those chapters, we have a narrative of events concerning the development of society in the four successive periods. Those chapters resemble a standard book of history except that each chapter is focused upon a particular institution rather than the totality of events. For example, chapter 4 is about the institution of government culminating in large empires in the first two centuries A.D. Chapter 5 is about the emergence of Buddhism, Christianity, Islam, and other advanced religions.

in Five Epochs of Civilization, world history is divided into five periods or epochs that are each associated with a civilization. The first civilization describes the period between 3,000 B.C. when civilized societies arose in Egypt and Mesopotamia and the time of Christ. The second civilization describes the period between the time of Christ and 1500 A.D when the Protestant Reformation took place. The third civilization describes the period between 1500 A.D. and 1920 A.D., the aftermath of World War I. The fourth civilization describes the period between 1920 A.D. and 2000 A.D. when the Internet took off. The fifth civilization which began in the 21st century is a still developing age dominated by computer technology.

Communication technology plays a key role in shaping the successive civilizations. Each civilization begins with an emerging technology that becomes the dominant mechanism of public communication during the epoch. And so, the first civilization is associated with writing in its primitive, ideographic form; the second civilization, with alphabetic writing; the third civilization, with printing; the fourth civilization, with electronic recording and broadcasting; and the fifth civilization, with computer-based communication such as the Internet.

Each type of communication technology fosters the development of a particular institution. For the first civilization, it is the institution of government; for the second civilization, world religion; for the third civilization, commerce and secular education; for the fourth civilization, the news and entertainment industry; and, for the fifth civilization, the Internet and perhaps other institutions. These successive institutions each exercise power in the society. Although the newest one is dominant, they work in combination with each other to produce an increasingly pluralistic society in which power is divided. The history of each epoch describes power struggles and other activities involving the various institutions.

This type of world history is intended to be a creation story about the various institutions that have appeared over time in our highly complex society. It is not a history of political events or a chronicle of great nations as some histories are. Its story is not limited to the history of western people. It does not explain why some people are stronger or more successful than others. Instead, it uses the twin aspects of communication technology and functional institutions as a skeleton for creating the history. This focuses the history upon objective conditions more than some others. While this book asserts that the histories of populous nations should receive their fair share of space in books of world history, it also directs greater attention to events and developments that created our modern world.

Being a creation story, Five Epochs of Civilization pays particular attention to the formative experiences of a particular institution in the epoch of its initial development. For example, since world religion “detaches” from the social matrix in the second epoch of world history to became a powerful institution, the history of this epoch is focused upon religion exclusively. Even though religion continues in a fully developed form in subsequent epochs, its story does not continue into that period of time. The same is true of government with respect to the first epoch; of commerce and education with respect to the third epoch, etc. The historian’s power to select significant events is therefore focused upon the creation of institutions in society rather than some other aspect of human experience, which may be a limiting factor.

F. Peter N. Stearns’ World History: the Basics, published in 2011.

Unlike others, this book is not a world history as such but a book about world history. However, chapter two, titled “A World History Skeleton”, tells how the author thinks the story of world history ought to be told. I will follow this “skeleton” in representing the design of Stearns’ world history.

1. The early stages: 2.5 million BCE to 10 million BCE: Homo sapiens developed as a dominant species, creating a human culture.

a. Technology and migration: The early humans invented tools to aid hunting and
fishing. They migrated from Africa to other parts of the earth.

b. Advent of agriculture: Growing out of women’s experimentation with seeds, agriculture was first developed in the Black Sea area and then spread to other parts of the world. It was developed independently in China and Central America.

c. Nature of agricultural societies: Unlike hunters and gatherers, agricultural societies were fixed in certain places. They developed a surplus of produce which allowed some to engage in other occupations. This led to the establishment of cities and to inequality of wealth and patriarchalism.

d. Civilization: Civilization is characterized by cities afforded by agricultural surplus, by arts and crafts, formal governments, and the acquisition of writing.

e. Locations: The early civilizations were located in river valleys in Mesopotamia, Egypt, India, and Central America, and were often facilitated by irrigation projects.

f. River valley civilizations: The civilized communities developed systems of law, works of literature and art, money, trade routes, mathematical techniques, and other innovations which served subsequent societies. The cities developed spheres of influence in surrounding areas.

g. End of the early civilization period: As the Egyptian empire waned and the Indus Valley society disappeared, the Phoenician and Jewish peoples in the east Mediterranean area established colonies and created monotheistic religion. Chinese society became better organized. Increased use of iron transformed warfare.

2. The classical period, 1000 BCE to 600 BCE: Political organization expanded in power and scope in China, India, Persia, and the Mediterranean region. With empires in Persia, China, and Rome came internal improvements such as roads, postal service, canals, language integration, and centralized governments including bureaucracy.

a. Distinctive features: The separate civilized societies developed their own core traditions. In India, the tradition was based on the Hindu religion. In China, centralized government was more important. The classical civilizations of Greece and Rome emphasize politics as well as philosophy, literature and the arts. Persian civilization mixed Zoroastrian religion with artistic accomplishments.

b. Complexities in the classical period: It took time for these separate cultures to develop. It is important not to oversimplify. Population growth occurred in all regions. There were trade relations and cultural exchanges between societies in separate religions. The Silk Road connected China and Rome. Sea-borne trade through the Indian Ocean connected Rome and India.

c. Decline and fall: Empires in China and Rome were overthrown as Huns and other nomads overran their domain. The Gupta empire in India also came to an end. However, the east Roman empire at Constantinople survived for several more centuries. After Rome’s fall, Europe never again gained political unity while in China the centralized government became even stronger.

3. The Post Classical Period, 500 CE to 1450 CE: The two most important developments during this period were the spread of missionary religions and the acceleration of trans-regional trade. After barbarian invaders upset the classical civilizations, civilization spread to such places as Russia, Japan, northwestern Europe, and sub-Saharan Africa. Trade contacts and cultural exchanges increased.

a. Missionary religions: Buddhism, Christianity, and Islam all grew in membership and scope of influence during this time as polytheistic religion declined.

b. Trade connections: Arab traders in the Indian Ocean connected separate societies from the middle east to China. Besides merchandise, the exchanges involved cultural items such as the Hindu numbering system, Chinese papermaking, and maps, and new varieties of seeds. Toward the end of this period, the Arabs were replaced by Europeans with guns and improved ships.

c. The Mongols: A new barbarian empire emerged in Mongolia that conquered China, Russia, and Persia. However, this unified empire facilitated increased trade and cultural exchange. The Mongols were later expelled from China and other parts of Asia. The dukes of Moscow acquired increased territory in Russia. The Ottoman Turks conquered the east Roman empire and other lands in west Asia. Europeans “discovered” and colonized the Americas.

4. The Early Modern Period, 1450 CE to 1800 CE:

a. Global exchange: The American hemisphere was brought into the sphere of trade and cultural exchange, creating a new global network. One result was the decimation of American natives by European diseases. However, the spread of new food sources eventually produced a huge increase in population.

b. Global trade: European merchants and commercial organizations initiated expanded trade in gold and silver mined in the America, silk and tea from China, cotton cloth from India, and other products. African slaves were transported to the Americas to perform labor. Human populations continued to increase.

c. Empires: New military techniques and organizations allowed the European nations to acquire colonies in other parts of the world and establish empires. Portugal, Spain, Britain, France, and the Netherlands all established colonial empires. Muslim empires emerged in India and the Middle East. China revived its traditional dynastic empires. Latin America fell under Iberian colonial rule.

d. Science: A revolution in scientific knowledge took place in Europe starting in the 17th century CE. that would result in new technologies. Eventually this knowledge spread from Europe to the Americas, Japan, and other part of the world.

5. The Long Nineteenth Century: The Industrial Revolution in Britain kicked off a period in which fossil fuels were applied to manufacturing and transportation greatly increasing prosperity. Mechanized agriculture expanded food production which sustained further increases in the human population. Meanwhile improvements in transportation and communication technologies brought increased contact between scattered societies on earth. Europe and North America dominated the earlier phase of industrialization.

a. Inequalities in Power: Improved technologies gave the European nations a military advantage over other peoples, allowing them to maintain their colonial empires. There was a surge of European imperialism in the late 19th century. Industrialization in Europe disrupted craft industries in nonwestern nations, turning these places into providers of raw materials.

b. Revolutionary Ideas: A number of political and social revolutions took place in the later 18th and early 19th centuries that challenged the institution of monarchy. They included the American and French revolutions as well as revolts in Europe and Latin America. A new spirit of nationalism threatened the Ottoman empire and Spanish colonial rule in South America. Women began to demand equal rights.

c. Emancipations: Serfdom was abolished in Europe in 1849. Movements to abolish race-based slavery meanwhile spread in Europe and in North and South America culminating in the U.S. Civil War. Immigration from Europe provided new sources of labor to support industry.

d. Millions were killed in the intra-European war now known as World War I. This resulted in dynastic changes and increased government control over the economy. The war also encouraged independence movements in nonwestern nations as European dominance came to an end.

6. The Contemporary Era in World History: Although we do not know how this period of world history will end, certain themes have emerged:

a. Challenges to the West: Western dominance of global society has become severely threatened. After World War II, most colonized peoples in Africa and Asia received political independence. Western dominance of industry has recently been challenged by Japan, China, India, and Brazil. New players have been admitted to the economic club.

b. Population Explosion: World population tripled during the past century to reach 6 billion persons by the end of the 20th century. The fastest growth has taken place in Africa, Latin America, and south Asia; the slowest, in the industrialized west. This has created pressure for migration from areas of faster population growth.

c. Global Technology: Globalization has intensified as transportation and communication technologies have improved. New global institutions have been established to improve trade practices and promote world health. Human rights has also become an issue. China opened its economy to the outside world in 1978 and the Soviet system was overthrown in Russia in 1990, creating a more integrated world.

d. Social and Political Upheaval: Monarchical governments have given away to democratic or authoritarian regimes. The landlord class has been replaced by the business class. New opportunities have opened up for women. The rise of consumerism has challenged traditional religion. Meanwhile, the human population has continued to increase, putting stress on the natural environment.

7. Conclusion: Periodization is vital to world history. Some of the most important changes to society have been the agricultural and industrial revolutions, the emergence of religion as a cultural force, and increased contact between once-scattered peoples of the earth.

Note: In chapter 4 (“managing time”), Peter Stearns identifies “types of measurements that allow periods to be defined. Some of them are: 1. “Themes that had prevailed before the new period begin to recede in importance or may even be reversed.” 2. “If the previous organizing principles fade in importance ... then it becomes essential to define what the new themes are.” 3. Sometimes a new period of world history is triggered by “a big event” such as World War I.

I would add that, following most historians who belong to the World History Association, Peter Stearns attaches great importance to trade contacts and cultural exchanges between once scattered societies on earth. The Silk Road attracts particular attention. The culminating event of world history would be the complete integration of peoples and nations on earth. The United Nations is a first step in that yet incomplete process.



Some models of big history

Some existing models of Big History are the following:

(a) David Christian’s, Maps of Time: An Introduction to Big History, published in 2004

(b) Cynthia Stokes Brown’s Big History: From the Big Bang to the Present, published in 2007

(c) William McGaughey’s History of the Triple Existence, published in 2015


A. The story design for David Christian’s Maps of Time: An Introduction to Big History, published in 2004:

Table of Contents:

Introduction - “big history” - looking at the past on all timescales, structure and organization, for and against big history,


Chapter 1 The first 300,000 years: origins of the universe, time, and space - the problem of beginnings, early scientific accounts of the universe, the big bang: from primordial chaos to the first signs of order, evidence for big bang cosmology, relativity and nuclear physics, cosmic background radiation, other forms of evidence, how trustworthy is big bang cosmology?, note on exponential notation, summary

Chapter 2 Origins of the galaxies and stars: the beginnings of complexity - the early universe and the first galaxies, a cosmological menagerie: black holes, quasars, and dark matter, the life and death of stars, creation of our sun, the scale of the universe, summary

Chapter 3 Origins and history of the earth - the solar system, the early earth: meltdown and cooling, evidence about the early earth, the origins of modern geology, Wegener and the modern theory of plate tectonics, a short history of the earth and the atmosphere, summary


Chapter 4 The origins of life and the theory of evolution - life: a new level of complexity, Darwin and the theory of evolution, origins of the modern theory of evolution, evidence of evolution through natural selection, the beginnings of life on earth, summary

Chapter 5 The evolution of life and the biosphere - diversity and complexity, the archean era: the age of bacteria, the proterozoic era: new forms of complexity, the Cambrian explosion: from the microcosm to the macrocosm, mammals and primates, evolution and the earth’s history: “Gaia”, individual species and their histories, summary


Chapter 6 The evolution of humans - human history: a new level of complexity, explaining the appearance of humans, evidence and arguments: constructing the story of human evolution, primate and hominine radiations, primate heritage, bipedalism and the first hominines, tool use and meat eating: Homo habilis, larger brains and ranges: Homo ergaster and Homo erectus, prehuman homines of the past million years, summary

Chapter 7 The beginnings of human history - the evolution of human language, when does human history begin?, African origins: the first 200,000 years, some rules of collective learning, paleolithic lifeways, “extensification: migrations of the upper paleolithic and their impacts, the human impact on the biosphere, summary


Chapter 8 Intensification and the origins of agriculture - the Holocene period of human history, the end of the last ice age, three worlds, what is agriculture?, domestication, chronology and geography of early domestication, the origins of agriculture, explanatory “prime movers” in the neolithic revolution, cultural preadaptations and ecological know-how; climactic change, population pressure, and exchanges; population growth, intensification, and specialization; the trap of sedentism, a general explanation for agricultural origins?, early agrarian lifeways, technologies: horticulture, not agriculture, village communities, hierarchies or equality?, relations with other societies, agricultural impacts, summary

Chapter 9 From power over nature to power over people: cities states, and “civilization” - social complexity, intensification: new ways of extracting resources from the natural world, shifting cultivation, the “secondary products revolution”, irrigation, other innovations, population growth, hierarchy: emerging inequalities in wealth and power, evidence of emerging inequality, new forms of power and control: power based on consent, the first big cities, the first states: power based on coercion, division of labor; bureaucracy, accounting, and writing; armies and taxation, “tribute-taking” societies, summary

Chapter 10 Long trends in the era of agrarian “civilizations” - new forms of diversity, networks of exchange, long-term trends, the increasing range of power of agrarian civilizations, scale as a source of innovation, population growth, states as sources of accumulation; exchange, commerce, and urbanization; rates of innovation, summary


Chapter 11 Approaching modernity - the world on the eve of modernity, the modern revolution, population growth, technological virtuosity, increased political and military power, transformed lifeways, new modes of thought, acceleration, theories of modernity, population growth and rates of innovation,some possible prime movers, demographic theories, idealistic theories, commercial theories, social structure theories, the scale and synergy of exchange networks, summary

Chapter 12 Globalization, commercialization, and innovation - the postclassical Malthusian cycle: before the fourteenth century, commercialization and its impact, the early modern Malthusian cycle: the fourteenth to the seventeenth century’, patterns of growth and innovation, the impact of commercialization in tributary societies, the new global topology: the changing role of Europe, the changing topology of global exchanges, the impact of global exchanges in Europe, a world ripe for transformation?, summary

Chapter 13 Birth of the modern world - economic revolution in Britain, the social context, agriculture, industry, political revolution in France, cultural revolution, the second and third waves, summary

Chapter 14 The great acceleration of the twentieth century - acceleration, changes within human society, waves of innovation in the twentieth century, creation: consumer capitalism and new lifeways, the contradictions of capitalism: inequality and poverty, the destruction of traditional lifeways, the destruction of traditional tributary empires, conflict, changes in human relations with the biosphere, summary


Chapter 15 Futures - thinking about the future, the near future: the next hundred years, the middle future: the next centuries and millennia, the remote future: the future of the solar system, the galaxy, and the universe, summary

Appendices - dating techniques, chronologies and timelines; constructing a modern time line, understanding large timescales, the core story, a chronology for the whole of time, history of earth and life on earth, the paleolithic era of human history, the holocene era of human history, the geological timescale; chaos and order

How the story unfolds:

David Christian has written a history of everything in the universe from a human perspective, of course. The six parts separate the disparate spheres of existence.

Part I is about the creation of the physical universe. The first chapter focuses upon the Big Bang and its immediate aftermath in which matter and energy became separated. The second chapter focuses upon the formation of stars, which also involves the creation of heavier elements. The third chapter focuses upon the earth. It tells how the earth was formed of materials surrounding the sun and how it subsequently developed a crust and other geological features.

Part II is concerned with the appearance of life on earth. It is concerned with the proliferation of living creatures after the earliest single-celled organisms were joined by eukaryotic cells and multi-celled organisms. The theory of evolution explains how life developed its variety of forms. Larger and more complex forms of plant and animal life were added to the mix of species. Living creatures were intimately related to the earth’s changing conditions; and the earth itself was substantively affected by the existence of life on its surface.

Part III narrows the discussion of life to the human species. How did Homo sapiens evolve from other species? What were the steps taken toward humanity as evidenced by fossil remains. The sixth chapter covers the physiological development of humanity in the course of its evolution. The seventh chapter covers the culture of primitive man. It covers the human migration out of Africa, the acquisition of language skills, the creation of stone tools, patterns of migration and trade, adaptation to changing climates, and the impact of hunting on other species of life.

Part IV is a history of the early “Holocene” epoch which started around 11,500 years ago and continues to the present. The main event was the development of agriculture which intensified food production and allowed more people to live on a given amount of land. Certain animals were also domesticated. Because of increased food production, humanity was able to congregate in cities. Urban life changed the nature of society. Society became more highly stratified by class. People lived in permanent housing. Writing was invented. As humanity subdued nature through its technologies, power struggles intensified between human communities or states. There were networks of trade.

Part V is titled “the modern era” which, in itself, means little except that this era is close to our own in time. The subtitle “One World”, suggests that as the human population grows and transportation techniques improve, regional differences among scattered peoples are disappearing as a global culture develops. What are some characteristics of the modern era? Scattered peoples on earth became aware of each other through voyages of exploration and trade. Religious ideologies gave way to a belief in the natural sciences. Technological advances brought increased material prosperity and population growth but made wars more lethal. The volume of information greatly increased. Power gravitated toward hubs of commercial exchange. European culture became dominant. The Industrial Revolution produced political, social, and cultural changes. The changes have accelerated in the 20th century. Human habitation threatened life in the biosphere.

Part VI is devoted to predictions of the future. It begins by citing uncertainty in such predictions. In the next hundred years, humanity may face great environmental challenges. Natural resources are being used faster than they can be replenished. In the next few centuries, Mathusian overpopulation may threaten survival of the human species. Humanity may try to inhabit outer space. In the distant future, we know that the sun will greatly expand in size as its nuclear fuel is spent. Conditions on earth will become unbearably hot. Ultimately, the universe itself may disappear into a black hole.

Christian’s book does not dwell upon political events. Its perspective is not limited to the western world. Like his mentor William McNeill and the World History Association, Christian attaches great importance to contacts between different societies on earth through trade, migration, and cultural exchange. There is less emphasis upon the internal dynamic of life-cycle change which Toynbee and others suggest drives world history.

Christian finds a unifying factor between the disparate areas of experience not only in the matrix of time and space but also in determinations of “complexity” and of energy flows or energy consumed per unit of space. Big history shows a progression toward increased complexity and energy flow moving from the large places in space to the human body and brain.


B. The story design for Cynthia Stokes Brown’s big history, Big History: From the Big Bang to the Present, published in 2007:

Table of Contents:

Part I The Depths of Time and Space

Chapter 1 Expanding into Universe (13.8 Billion - 4.6 Billion Years Ago) - fog and transparency, twinkling galaxies, the sun/el sol/helios/die sonne, unanswered questions

Chapter 2 Living Earth (4.6 Billion - 5 Million Years Ago) - cells and life processes (3.9-2 billion years ago), new cells and two-partner sex (1.8 billion-460 million years ago), plants and the face of the earth (460-250 million years ago), animals come ashore (450-65 million years ago), dinosaurs to chimpanzees (65-5 million years ago), unanswered questions

Chapter 3 Human Emergence: One Species ( 5 Million-35,000 Years Ago) - from divergence to Homo erectus, descendants of Homo erectus, Homo sapiens inhabits the world, unanswered questions

Chapter 4 Advanced Hunting and Gathering (35,000-10,000 years ago) - the hunting and gathering life, what did hunter-gatherers speak?, the rising seas, genetic drift and adaptation, unanswered questions

Part II Ten Thousand Warm Years

Chapter 5 Early Agriculture (8000-3500 BCE) - plants and animals enter domestication, three small towns, effects of settling down, persistent hunter-gatherers and nomads, unanswered questions

Chapter 6 Early Cities (3500-800 BCE) - the Sumerians, other urban centers - India, Egypt, and China, urban turning points, unanswered questions

Chapter 7 The Afro-Eurasian Network (800 BCE-22 CE) - India, China, Greece, Rome; population, environment, and religion; unanswered questions

Chapter 8 Expanding the Afro-Eurasian Network (200-1000 CE) - the central core (200-600), Islam arises and China recovers (600-1000), the edges and limits of the Afro-Eurasian network, costs of complexity, unanswered questions

Chapter 9 Emergence of American Civilizations (200-1450 CE) - humans on the scene, urban centers in Mesoamerica, Mayan and Aztec empires, urban centers in South America, the rest of the Americas, the Americas in the context of Afro-Eurasia, unanswered questions

Chapter 10 One Afro-Eurasia (1000-1500 CE) - the rise and spread of the Mongols; Mongols, then Mings, in China; Mongols and afterwards in the Islamic world, Europe from 1000 to 1500, the margins of the Eurasian core, unanswered questions

Chapter 11 Connecting the Globe (1450-1800 CE) - the crucible for Columbus, first encounters, the global exchange, the major empires; religion, science, and warfare; unanswered questions

Chapter 12 Industrialization (1750-2000 CE) - bourgeois power, industrial revolution, imperialism and world wars 1850-1945, leadership by the United States 1945-2000, unanswered questions

Chapter 13 What Now? What Next? - some global measures, experiment with earth, forests, soil, water, radiation, possible short-term scenarios, the universe abides, unanswered questions

How the story unfolds:

According to the table of contents, big history is divided into two parts titled “the depths of time and space” and “ten thousand warm years”, which is the history of humanity since Neolithic times. The first part is a fairly standard account of the creation of the universe, the solar system, the earth, the human species, and pre-historic human culture, told in separate chapters. Let us focus on the second part.

The chapter headings tell what the author thinks is important to human experience in recent times. Early agriculture and the rise of cities, nourished by agriculture, would be the key events in the period from 8000 to 800 B.C. After that, it is all about regions and networks. Networks are connections between separate communities established through trade, migration, and exchange of ideas. The ultimate development is for those separate communities to merge in larger regional blocs and for the world’s people eventually to become one.

The story originally focuses upon the Afro-Eurasian network - in other words, what used to be called “the Old World”. In that context we have histories of India, China, Greece, and Rome with population increase and world religion starting to spread. The period between 200 and 1000 A.D. is characterized by “expanding the Afro-Eurasian network”. Here nomadic intruders destroy the west Roman empire while Byzantium remains, the religion of Islam takes root, the Silk Road is filled with merchants, the Vikings roam northern Europe, and African kingdoms arise. The big event, reserved for the next chapter, is when Eurasian peoples hook up with the Americas and the network expands. This involves initially the story of pre-Columbian America, the Mayan and Aztec empires, empires in south America, the Indian tribes of north America, and exchanges between the Old and New worlds.

Now we have increased integration of the regional cultures, starting with the Afro-Eurasian bloc. The Mongols play a key role in putting Chinese culture in touch with the Christian and Islamic worlds. The black plague, originating in China, decimates European populations. The Ming dynasty evicts the Mongols, resurrecting traditional Chinese government. New Islamic empires arise in west Asia and Africa. Western Christian crusaders seek to reconquer the Holy Land, universities are established, and new technologies such as printing are introduced.

The earth’s populations become truly integrated in the period between 1450 and 1800 A.D. New trade routes are established between Europe and China and between Europe, Africa, and the Americas which involve the trade in slaves. Spanish adventurers conquer the Aztec and Inca empires. The Spanish, Portuguese, Dutch, French, and British build colonial empires in the America. The Ottoman Turks and Safavid Persians build empires in southwest Asia while the Hapsburgs dominate Europe. Established religions face challenges from science and the Protestant reformation.

The main historical current in the period between 1750 and 2000 A.D. concerns industrialization. The rise of commercial culture in Europe, political reforms, and strengthening trade are a prelude to the technological developments that took place initially in Great Britain as steam power was harnessed to manufacturing processes and transportation. Industrial production destabilized local economies. Steamboats and railroads moved people and goods more efficiently to distant places. The shift of power to industrialized Europe led to intensified competition between its leading nations; and that led to World War I and then to World War II, both suicidal wars. In the 1940s and 1950s, the leading western powers granted independence to their former colonies. However, there remained a great disparity of wealth.

The last chapter in Brown’s book is about the future. From a global perspective, human populations have increased sharply as food prices have dropped. People are becoming better educated. And yet, there are worries about exhausting the earth’s natural resources. Global warming may destabilize its climate. The forests, soil, and sources of clean water are becoming depleted. Radiation from radioactive waste threatens public health. While humanity struggles to meet these global challenges, the larger universe remains stable in terms of human longevity, perhaps offering an escape from calamities on earth.

All in all, this book follows the prevailing line of world-historical analysis that makes external contacts rather than internal (“life cycle”) dynamics the driving force behind historical change. The emphasis is upon ever larger circles of contact and communication.


C. The story design for William McGaughey’s History of the Triple Existence, published in 2015

Table of Contents:

Chapter 1 Origin of the cosmos - The big bang and quarks, events of the first three minutes, cosmic stories, the age of radiation, chemical structures, star formation , main-sequence stars, red giants, white dwarfs and neutron stars, binary stars, pulsars, and black holes, the size of stars and elemental weights, how matter is distributed in space , dark matter and dark energy, knowing events on this level of magnitude, in the larger regions of space, what type of being was created during this period.

Chapter 2 The earth and solar system The present situation, how the solar system was created, the eight planets, how the earth’s moon was created, the earth’s formation, the earth’s chemical composition, chemistry of the surface and interior rock, the presence of water , shifting land masses,the supercontinents , periods of warming and glaciation, the impact of life on geological processes, release of oxygen, residue of plant and animal life , mass extinctions and other threats, recent temperature cycles, what type of being was created during this period, the present arrangement of water and land on the earth’s surface.

Chapter 3 Life appears on earth - Life’s characteristics, how life might have begun; DNA, RNA, amino acids, and proteins; prokaryotic and eukaryotic cells, oxygen and iron, biological classifications, geological periods, the pre-Cambrian period, the Cambrian explosion ; the Ordovician, Silurian, and Devonian periods; the Carboniferous period , the Permian period and extinction, the Triassic period, the age of dinosaurs, the Cretaceous period, the ascent of mammals, the last thirty million years, what type of being was created during this period.

Chapter 4 The human species appears - A search for our ancestors, our primate relatives, some of our pre-human ancestors, ancestors from the period between 7 million and 4 million years ago, Australopithecus, Homo habilis, Homo erectus, Homo heidelbergensis, Neanderthals, Homo sapiens , our African origin, brain size as an indicator of human capability, Homo sapiens becomes dispersed to other parts of the world, what DNA says of racial and ethnic relationships, the three races and various ethnicities, changes within the human population in historical times, what type of being was created during this period.

Chapter 5 The beginning of human culture and thought - Perishable and imperishable thought, stone tools, stone-tipped spears; clothing, shelter, and decorative ornaments; expressive art, paleolithic culture, life in hunter/gatherer societies, neolithic culture, glimpses of Neolithic life in western Europe , domesticated animals, the beginning of agriculture, intervention of human thought in the evolution of plant and animal species, intimations of religion, oral culture, the words of languages, the human body molding speech, languages of the world, how thought was advanced during this period.

Chapter 6 The first epoch of civilization: development of imperial government - When and where the first civilized societies appeared, emergence of a new type of community, ideographic writing, monarchies, the first empires: Egypt and Sumer, mideastern empires of the 2nd millennium B.C. , nomadic invasions, military struggles in the middle east, Rome’s emergence as a world power, Hunnish eruptions, continuation of the Roman empire in the east; the Parthian, Kushan, and Sasanian empires; India, China, southeast and east Asia, pre-Columbian America, how thought was advanced during this period.

Chapter 7 The second epoch of civilization: development of world religion - Three stages in religion, a shift in the type of worship, the introduction of alphabetic writing, philosophers and prophets of the Axial Age , the monotheism of Ikhnaton and Moses, Jews under foreign rule, early Christianity, theological controversies, development of the western church, the power of the Roman church, orthodox Christianity, the later Persian religions, the religion of Islam, Islamic empires, the Hindu and Buddhist religions, the spread of Indian religion to lands outside India , religion in southeast and east Asia, an other-worldly tendency, how thought was advanced during this period.

Chapter 8 The third epoch of civilization: development of commerce and education - Thawing religious belief, the seeing revolution, the introduction of printing , the beginning of commercial organization in Europe, Luther’s protest, the nexus between wealth and the arts, commercial rivalry between the north Atlantic nations, colonial trade, the rise of machines, trade competition in an industrial age, industrial America,the labor movement, universal education , literary and artistic style, a new mode of selling, newspapers as vehicles for selling, yielding to the machine, the unraveling of western colonialism, materialism and disintegration, how thought was advanced during this period.

Chapter 9 The fourth epoch of civilization: development of news and entertainment - A weight lifted from our shoulders, entertainment up until the 20th century, amateur and professional sports, productions on the Broadway stage, racially styled music, communication technology transforms entertainment, how the technology of sound recording was developed, recorded music, how the technology of motion pictures was developed, a short history of motion pictures, how the technology of radio broadcasting was developed, a short history of radio broadcasting, how the technology of television broadcasting was developed, a short history of the television industry, sports broadcasts, gambling , narrowcasting, computer-generated entertainment, entertainment goes international, how thought was advanced during this period.

Chapter 10 The first epoch of civilization: development of computers - The early days, mainframe computers, Silicon Valley, microcomputers, Microsoft and the software business, the move to computer networks, CompuServe and The Source, other computer networks, genesis of America OnLine (AOL), moving to a new model of service, the Internet, web browsers and search engines, turn-of-the-millennium excitement, Google and Yahoo!, other heavily-trafficked sites, wireless devices, knowledge production, Watson and colleagues, history’s wrecking ball, how thought was advanced during this period.

Chapter 11 Intelligent machine life - Imagining an artificial human being, the first moves toward artificial intelligence , how Artificial Intelligence study began, putting this knowledge to work, Ray Kurzweil: prophet of Artificial Intelligence, three approaches to human cognition, reverse engineering the brain , robots, nano-sized robots , Will robots survive humanity?, no assurance that humanity will make the right decisions, robots to the rescue, how thought may be advanced during this period.

Appendix: Additional graphics and tables, Diagram of differentiating institutions, on big history and the five epochs of civilization, how the triple existence exists, an alternative scheme of thresholds and historical turning points

How the story unfolds:

This “Big History” book tells the story of three types of being - matter, life, and thought - which were each created and developed to produce our present world. Matter comes first. Life grows out of it. Then thought grows out of life. Their combined story is told in in eleven chapters as the three types of beings successively emerge.

The first two chapters tell how matter was born and developed. Actually, the complete story is told in the first chapter. The second has to do with the development of a small part of the material universe - the solar system and earth. We are especially interested in earth because it is our home and because the next type of being - thought - arises exclusively on earth.

Chapters three and four tell the story of life. The complete story is found in chapter three. Chapter four tells how the human species developed. So, again, this chapter concerns a subset of all living creatures. We are especially interested in Homo sapiens because it is us and because we are the exclusive source of thought.

Chapter five, concerned with prehistoric culture, is a kind of hybrid between life and thought. Humanity is emerging from a wild state to produce artifacts, practices, and institutions that are created by thought and will support later civilizations. These include clothing, agriculture, and spoken language, as well as rudimentary kinds of knowledge.

The story of thought itself is told in chapters six through ten. This is the period of civilized history. By “thought”, we mean collective human thought which leads to written works and systems of knowledge rather than individual thinking.

The stories in chapters six through ten follow the scheme of history developed in an earlier book, Five Epochs of Civilization. World history is divided into five periods or epochs that are each associated with a civilization. The first civilization describes the period between 3,000 B.C. when civilized societies arose in Egypt and Mesopotamia and the time of Christ. The second civilization describes the period between the time of Christ and 1500 A.D when the Protestant Reformation took place. The third civilization describes the period between 1500 A.D. and 1920 A.D., the aftermath of World War I. The fourth civilization describes the period between 1920 A.D. and 2000 A.D. when the Internet took off. The fifth civilization which began in the 21st century is a still developing age dominated by computer technology.

Communication technology plays a key role in shaping the successive civilizations. Each civilization begins with an emerging technology that becomes the dominant mechanism of public communication during the epoch. And so, the first civilization is associated with writing in its primitive, ideographic form; the second civilization, with alphabetic writing; the third civilization, with printing; the fourth civilization, with electronic recording and broadcasting; and the fifth civilization, with computer-based communication such as the Internet.

Each type of communication technology fosters the development of a particular institution. For the first civilization, it is the institution of government; for the second civilization, world religion; for the third civilization, commerce and secular education; for the fourth civilization, the news and entertainment industry; and, for the fifth civilization, the Internet and perhaps other institutions. These successive institutions each exercise power in the society. Although the newest one is dominant, they work in combination with each other to produce an increasingly pluralistic society. The history of each epoch describes power struggles and other activities involving the various institutions.

The eleventh chapter is an attempt to discern future history. It focuses upon artificial intelligence and robotics and also the clash between human populations and the earth’s environment. Thought here becomes mechanized.

This approach to big history associates the progress of thought with historical events and developments within human society. On one hand, the communication technology is a device to transmit human thought. On the other hand, thought itself develops in the context of events taking place within human society. So the focus is upon the development of society rather than upon individual creative acts that develop new kinds of thought. Collective thought is our primary interest; and that depends upon the development of human society.

The period of world history - between 3,000 B.C. and the present time - has two main segments with respect to the development of thought. The first segment, comprising the first two civilizations, is focused upon written manuscripts. Knowledge is expressed in such a form. The second segment, comprising the third and fourth civilizations, expresses thought more in the form of machines. The tenth and eleventh chapters are focused upon “thinking machines” - computers and robots - which compete with the human brain and body. They may well dominate our future civilization.

In summary, the scheme of Big History contained in History of the Triple Existence follows a standard script with respect to the stories of matter and life but takes a different approach than most when it comes to human civilization. It is not concerned with political events, material living conditions, and the like, but rather with the progress of thought as a type of being as human history unfolds.


Click for a translation into:

French - Spanish - German - Portuguese - Italian  

simplified Chinese -- Indonesian -- Turkish -- Polish -- Dutch - Russian         


back to: main page        to: A Call to Action