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Lawrence Edwards

Hi Rich and all you wonderful folks,
I think you said it well, “it’s got to be rigorous enough to survive in a fragmented academic landscape. That is a tough challenge.” The fragmented academic landscape has caused much inefficiency in our understanding the Universe, Earth, and certainly ourselves. Yet we humans can handle just so much information, concepts, theories, etc. We are limited and the Universe/Earth is so far unlimited. So we have academic departments.
Given that, my take is that history is what happened in the past. As an academic pursuit it also generally refers to the study of the events of the fairly recent past. As Jennifer wrote, Big History started with “classical” historians generally those in academic history departments. (Cynthia correctly noted that now many non-classical historians are now engaged in it.) And now their history is bigger. Makes perfect sense.

So I propose that we honor our traditional use of the word history (with whatever adjective is helpful) to mean what happened in the past. Also we might continue to use history to refer to the study of the fairly recent past that has traditionally involved classical historians.

Science is involved in how the historical events are discovered and characterized. Geologists, then biologists, now many scientific specialists have studied the past for at least several centuries without, generally, using the word history. (History was for the historians and they were in a different department.) But of course it is indeed history that the scientists were piecing together. It is just that the methodology of discovering and characterizing the events has been radically different. So even though the methodology has been scientific, what has been discovered/characterized is not science. It is history. Let me give an example.

The Topa volcano eruption took place about 77,000 years ago. It seems that it almost made Homo sapiens extinct. That eruption was discovered/characterized through science. But the volcano itself is not science. Neither is the eruption. They are both activities/processes of Universe/Earth. They were discovered and characterized by the methodology of science, but are not science.

A more personal example might be the following. Suppose a physician scans my pre-frontal cortex and discovers/characterizes my neuronic activities as I watch some photos on a computer. The physician then draws some interesting conclusions about the activity of my pre-frontal cortex. My pre-fontal cortex don’t suddenly become science. But the conclusions of the physician are rightfully considered scientific.

So some folks will want to determine just the historical facts, ie as Jennifer writes “an objective scientifically-based narrative”. Some folks will be interested only in understanding the physical-chemical-biological processes of the history. And some folks will want to extract meaning from the events. I whole-heartedly welcome all three.