PICTURING BIG HISTORY: USING PHOTOGRAPHY TO CONNECT TO THE THRESHOLDS AND THEMES OF BIG HISTORY

Damian Pawlowski
BHP Teacher, California, USA

Interconnection: The Riches of Real by E.A.

Interconnection: The Riches of Real by E.A.

Fred Spier begins his book Big History and the Future of Humanity with the story of how he was inspired at a young age by the famous Earthrise photograph. This stunning photo, taken by astronaut William Anders during the Apollo 8 mission, helped people around the world to see the beauty and fragility of our home planet. When Earthrise was first published in 1969, people saw planet Earth as what fellow astronaut James Lovell described as “a grand oasis in the big vastness of space.” Today this awesome image of Earth is considered to be one of the most influential photographs in history. Viewing Earth from this perspective has helped inspire the environmental movement and has generated an increased interest in interdisciplinary studies.

Threshold 2: Star Trails by F.W.

Threshold 2: Star Trails by F.W.

When I began teaching Big History, I put up a poster of Earthrise in the classroom to remind my students of the power of photographs. Throughout our studies I challenge my students to make connections between the image and the thresholds and themes of the course. As the students gain new knowledge about the history of the cosmos and humanity, we reflect back on the famous photo and apply what we have learned. From the light of the sun illuminating the Earth, to the shape of the continents and the complex civilizations that call the planet home, the connections the students make are fun and thoughtful. When we ponder the driving question of “Why individuals change their minds?” we consider how evidence in the form of a photograph can change our perspective and convince us to think differently.

Threshold 3: Elementary Ingredients by G.O.

Threshold 3: Elementary Ingredients by G.O.

Teaching Big History has provided me with new opportunities to inspire my students to be creative and innovative. Throughout the course I encourage the students to demonstrate their knowledge in a variety of different ways. From designing instructional infographics to creating original films, the students work to use technology to enhance their learning experience. In a new project this school year, I challenged the students to go out into the world a take an original photograph or share a photograph they had taken recently that they believe connected to their studies of Big History. Some of those images are shown throughout this post. I encouraged the students to research the work of famous landscape photographers like Ansel Adams, Galen Rowell, and Eliot Porter for inspiration. I then shared with the students, images from Matt Walker, Cory Hansen, and Sean Parker. These contemporary artists are a few of my favorites because their work depicts a beautiful interaction between the cosmos, nature, and the modern world. The students then wrote about how their own photo reflected their knowledge of the thresholds and themes and shared their work with their classmates. Later in the year we will take our photo editing skills to the next level when we collaborate with our school’s digital photography teacher on a photojournalism project to document the Modern Revolution.

12.10_Threshold_4_Lunar_Dark_Side_by_MS

Threshold 4: Lunar Dark Side of the Moon by M.S.

My students are living at a time in human history where access to smart phones has given more people the opportunity to be photographers. The growing popularity of photo sharing apps like Instagram, Flickr, and Snapchat provide this generation with an increasing ability to create and share original content. By encouraging my students to create and share meaningful and thought-provoking photographs, they have an opportunity to reflect on their learning and inspire others to think critically about the study of Big History.

Threshold 5: A Path to Life by P.D.

Threshold 5: A Path to Life by P.D.

12.10_Threshold_6_House_of_Knowledge_by_BR

Threshold 6: House of Knowledge by B.R.

12.10_Threshold_7_Rows_of_Fertility_by_EP

Threshold 7: Rows of Fertility by E.P.

12.10_Threshold_8_A_Square_of_Time_by_KK

Threshold 8: A Square of Time by K.K.

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