Study Guides

H2®, in collaboration with The Big History Project, is launching an exciting new series that turns history on its head, telling the story of the universe from the Big Bang through today. Narrated by the acclaimed actor Bryan Cranston, Big History crisscrosses through time and space to examine the surprising connections and unexpected twists that have resulted in our world today. Through exploring popular items such as cell phones and airplanes and natural phenomena such as mountains and salt, each episode of the series looks at a topic from a “Big History” perspective.

View the study guides below for more information.

PDF_Icon_White   Big History Study Guide

The series can be used as a companion to The Big History Project online course and curriculum.

PDF_Icon_White   Episode 1: The Superpower of Salt

Salt built the Great Wall of China and helped turned New York into America’s biggest city. Without it, civilizations would never have thrived and technology would be stuck in the Stone Age. Salt launched wars and sparked revolutions all because humans can’t survive without it. Viewers will learn about how salt first formed and the way our very thoughts are made of this valuable resource. Taking a tour through space and time, across continents and up through the present, this episode gives new insights into how this everyday substance has fueled our world.

PDF_Icon_White   Episode 2: Horse Power Revolution

The horse has been a revolutionary animal in unexpected ways. Horses have shaped the way we speak, what we wear, and they have helped determine the hidden limit for the size of our most massive empires. Their story spans the cosmos from the elements that made it possible for them to thrive through their many functions in our world today. This episode explores important thresholds in the history of the horse, from their near extinction to their dominance on the steppes of Eurasia to their key roles in agricultural societies over time.

PDF_Icon_White   Episode 3: Below Zero

Cold weather has led to mass extinctions, yet without it humans never would have evolved to walk on two feet. Cold divided the ancient world into farmers and nomads, sparking endless wars, and it also helped put an end to Napoleon’s empire. Ice helped sink the Titanic, but also raised skyscrapers to the heavens. In this episode, viewers learn how the conquest of cold has helped humans eat a balanced diet and survive the harshest of conditions.

PDF_Icon_White   Episode 4: Gold Fever

Gold has always represented stability throughout human history and yet it has also created conflict and doomed empires. Viewers will learn how the world’s supply of gold became available to humans and why it has been turned into everything from money to wedding rings.

PDF_Icon_White   Episode 5: Megastructures

From the Great Pyramid at Giza to the towering Burj Khalifa in Dubai, humans have been engineering massive constructions for thousands of years. This episode examines the development of human societies through the lens of the largest and often most compelling structures we have created.

PDF_Icon_White   Episode 6: Defeating Gravity

Did you know that if animals had never evolved in flight, nature would never have created flowers and trees? This episode traces the history of flight from the prehistoric insect to our modern globalized jet age. From Leonardo da Vinci’s first blueprints imagining flight through the Wright Brothers innovative design techniques, viewers learn how humans have been able to achieve flight and transform the world in the process.

PDF_Icon_White   Episode 7: World of Weapons

From the invention of the long bow to a Chinese alchemist’s accidental discovery of gunpowder, to Leonardo da Vinci’s design for a machine gun, history has been shaped by an ever-evolving quest for power over others. This episode looks at the ways humans have built and refined weapons, and how they have transformed human cultures over time.

PDF_Icon_White   Episode 8: Brain Boost

Today, commodities like coffee and tea are part of everyday life for many people throughout the world. But what is the history behind them, and why did they become so popular? This episode explores the chemical makeup of caffeine, and links human cravings to transformative events in human history, providing context for understanding the role of caffeine in our lives today.

PDF_Icon_White   Episode 9: Mountain Machines

Mountains form natural boundaries, dictate trade routes, create natural defenses and powerfully affect our weather. They have inspired wonder but have also fragmented peoples and sparked wars throughout history. This episode examines how mountains were created and how they have shaped the human story over time.

PDF_Icon_White   Episode 10: Pocket Time Machines

Cell phones are everywhere, and they link people throughout the world. This episode examines the how and why of the cell phone, giving historical context on the evolution of this now-omniscient device.

PDF_Icon_White   Episode 11: Decoded

From the first letters of the alphabet to the binary zeroes and ones that make up today’s Internet language, humanity has relied on codes. This episode explores these powerful secret codes including the roots of human life in our all-important human code: DNA.

PDF_Icon_White   Episode 12: Deadly Meteors

Meteors brought water and minerals to earth, making life possible. By killing off the dinosaurs, an asteroid impact allowed human beings to evolve. In this episode, viewers will learn how meteors have made their mark on human history and may also impact our future.

PDF_Icon_White   Episode 13: The Sun

Solar cycles have guided human civilization from the development of agriculture to the massive famines in Europe in the 1300s when sunspot activity helped cause the Little Ice Age. This episode looks at the centrality of the sun to human existence, exploring the ways various cultures have worshipped the sun and how humans have counted on its heat to stay alive.

PDF_Icon_White   Episode 14: Rise of the Carnivores

From the first domesticated cows around 8500 B.C. to the cattle rustling of Billy the Kid to the burger and shake at the local drive-thru, beef is at the center of history and human evolution. In this episode, viewers learn how and why the domestication of the cow led to major advances in human society.

PDF_Icon_White   Episode 15: H2O

A molecule made of two atoms of hydrogen and one atom of oxygen is the key to life itself. This episode provides a Big History perspective on water, revealing the many ways water has fueled life and propelled humans forward.

PDF_Icon_White   Episode 16: Silver Supernova

While many people think of silver as a secondary metal to gold, this episode of Big History reveals its fundamental importance throughout human history. From the creation of silver in supernova explosions to the use of silver as the first global currency, viewers learn how it has played a key role in cultures throughout the world.