His Plan Is To Combine Art And Science To Create "Big History"
By: Brent Runyon
Richard J. Blundell of Cambridge is developing a new one-man show he hopes to perform in Woods Hole this summer that combines history, science, and theater.
Mr. Blundell plans to work with scientists from the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution and a local theater director on “A Surfer’s Guide to the Universe,” which he hopes to perform in August and September.
Mr. Blundell is a doctoral student in history, but not American history or European history or even world history; Mr. Blundell is a student of big history—the study of the universe from the big bang to the present moment.
From Duxbury originally, and formerly a marine geologist with Sea Education Association in Woods Hole, Mr. Blundell said his performance will explore waves as a fundamental part of cosmic evolution. That includes all kinds of waves: ocean waves, electromagnetic waves, compression waves in supernovae, and waves of social change.
His performance is part of his doctoral degree in big history at Macquarie University in Sydney, Australia, where he studies with David Christian, one of the founders of the emerging field.
Although he is technically based in Sydney, his scholarship allows him the freedom to travel wherever he wants. “I’m a bit itinerant at the moment,” he said. He plans to perform in Woods Hole because it is the only place in the world he has found that has both a strong science community and a strong arts community.
The one-man performance will include projected multimedia and music, similar to a TED talk. “The idea is that I would develop and produce this piece on-Cape this summer and perform at venues from September on,” he said.
Mr. Blundell is meeting with scientists at WHOI this weekend, and is also seeking a local theater director to help create the project with him. The ideal candidate would have an understanding of science and be able to spend a few hours a week providing critique, feedback and bringing energy to the production.
“I only have a small budget so I am hoping to find someone willing to get creative regarding payment,” he said.
The field of big history was founded 20 years ago, and counts Microsoft founder Bill Gates as a supporter. With financing from Mr. Gates, courses in big history are now being taught in high schools around the country with plans to expand to more schools. The course covers 13.7 billion years of history in one school year.
The website www.bighistoryproject.com outlines the entire scope of history with an interactive time line and course materials.
The studies begin with the big bang and the moment of origin, through the formation of stars, and the chemical components of the universe. Moving through billions of years, the course continues through the formation of planets, the origins of life on Earth 3.8 billion years ago, leading to dinosaurs and mammals 250 million years ago.
Humans are relatively recent arrivals on Earth, but play an important role in big history. Humans use language to communicate, which allows us to learn and build on others’ experiences. The accumulation of knowledge, combined with agriculture, allowed humans to spread around the globe.
The overall goal of big history is to reveal common themes and patterns that help students better understand people, civilizations and the world.
Big history incorporates independent disciplines into a holistic view of the interrelated universe. Through the studies, students see how physics, chemistry, biology, ancient civilizations, and contemporary human history fit together.