The Socioecological Learner in Big History: Post-Anthropocene Imageries

  • Marilyn Ahearn
  • Amy Cutter-Mackenzie-Knowles
  • Brad Shipway
  • Wendy Boyd


The purpose of this chapter is to critically examine socioecological learning within the context of the evolving scientific story of the universe through Big History. We orient the reader to an overview of Big History in the context of the post-Anthropocene. Big History promotes antidisciplinary boundaries, beyond siloing, to forge new connections within an increasingly complex universe. Incorporating the experiences of fifteen students, we represent their post-Anthropocene imaginaries revealing five distinct themes/concepts. These include: Big History is More-than-Human; Big History Metanarratives; Antidisciplinary Learning through Big History; Whole-systems and Worldviews in Big History; Agency and Possibility of Transformative Thinking in Big History.


Big History Socioecological learning Anthropocene Post-Anthropocene Whole systems Antidisciplinary 


  1. ACARA. (2014, April). The Australian curriculum. Retrieved from
  2. Ahearn, M. (2018). An tairseach (threshold): An exploration of connecting the emerging scientific story of the universe to authentic Catholic primary school environmental education. PhD thesis, Southern Cross University, Gold Coast, Australia.Google Scholar
  3. Australian Education for Sustainability Alliance. (2014). Education for sustainability and the Australian Curriculum Project: Final report for research phases 1 to 3. Melbourne: AESA.Google Scholar
  4. Benjamin, C. (2009). The convergence of logic, faith and values in the modern creation myth. World History Connected, 6(3). Retrieved from
  5. Beringer, A. (2007). The “spiritual handshake”: Toward a metaphysical sustainability metrics. Canadian Journal of Environmental Education, 12(1), 143–159.Google Scholar
  6. Big History Project. (2014). What is Big History unit 1 guide. Retrieved from
  7. Big History Project. (2015). Big History: Unit 5 teacher guide. Retrieved from{700F1BBD-A06E-450B-99DB-D7099D98A436}
  8. Big History Project. (2018). Big History Project: Schools. Retrieved from
  9. Bowers, C. A. (1994). Children, environmental education, and the implications of changing from a liberal to a cultural/bio-conservative ideology. Childhood, 2(1–2), 56–72.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. Bowers, C. A. (2010). Educational reforms that foster ecological intelligence. Teacher Education Quarterly, 37(4), 9.Google Scholar
  11. Bowers, C. A. (2012). Questioning the idea of the individual as an autonomous moral agent. Journal of Moral Education, 41(3), 301–310.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. Catholic Education Office: Sydney. (2012, April 5). Catholic Education Office Sydney, Religious Education. Retrieved from
  13. Catholic Education Office: Sydney. (2013a). Professional learning module 3.1. The nature of the cross–curriculum priorities and other BOS learning. Retrieved from
  14. Catholic Education Office: Sydney. (2013b). Professional learning module 5.4: Catholic Values. CEO Sydney, BOS Syllabus for the Australian Curriculum. Retrieved from
  15. Christian, D. (2010). The return of universal history. History and Theory, 49(4), 6–27.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. Christian, D. (2011a). The history of our world in 18 minutes. TED ideas worth spreading. Retrieved from
  17. Christian, D. (2011b). Maps of time: An introduction to Big History (Rev. ed.). Washington, DC: Heldref Publications.Google Scholar
  18. Christian, D., & Gates, B. (2011). Big History Project. Retrieved from
  19. Collins, D., Genet, R., & Christian, D. (2013). Crafting a new narrative to support sustainability. In W. W. Institute (Ed.), State of the World 2013: Is sustainability still possible? Washington, DC: Island Press.Google Scholar
  20. Crumley, C., Laparidou, S., Ramsey, M., & Rosen, A. M. (2015). A view from the past to the future: Concluding remarks on the ‘The Anthropocene in the Longue Durée’. The Holocene, 25(10), 1721–1723.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  21. Crutzen, P. (2006). The “Anthropocene”. In E. Ehlers & T. Krafft (Eds.), Earth system science in the anthropocene (pp. 13–18). Berlin/Heidelberg, Germany: Springer.Google Scholar
  22. Crutzen, P., & Brauch, H. (2016). Paul J. Crutzen: A Pioneer on atmospheric chemistry and climate change in the Anthropocene. Dordrecht: Springer.Google Scholar
  23. Earth Charter Commission. (2000). Earth charter. Retrieved from
  24. Fleming, J. R. (2015). Review of Brooke, J. climate change and the course of global history: A rough journey. The American Historical Review, 120(3), 965.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  25. IBHA. (2012). The big history project: Introducing big history in the classroom. Retrieved from
  26. Jackson, S., & Finn, I. (2015). Beyond the postmodern?: A critical discussion of big history, science and public history – Part 2. Teaching History, 49(3), 4–9.Google Scholar
  27. Laszlo, A., & Krippner, S. (1998). Systems theories: Their origins, foundations, and development. Advances in Psychology, 126, 47–74.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  28. Leiserowitz, A., & Fernandez, L. (2008). Toward a new consciousness: Values to sustain human and natural communities. Environment: Science and Policy for Sustainable Development, 50(5), 62–69.Google Scholar
  29. Lewis, E. (2012). Impact of education for sustainability at a Montessori primary school: From silos to systems thinking. Doctor of education, Murdoch, Australia. Retrieved from
  30. Lofland, J., Snow, D., Anderson, L., & Lofland, L. (2006). Analyzing social settings: A guide to qualitative observation and analysis. Belmont, CA: Thomson Wadsworth.Google Scholar
  31. Macquarie University. (2012). Big History Institute. Retrieved from
  32. McNiff, J., & Whitehead, J. (2010). You and your action research project. New York: Routledge.Google Scholar
  33. Miles, M. B., Huberman, A. M., & Saldana, J. (2014). Qualitative data analysis: A method sourcebook. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.Google Scholar
  34. Morgan, J. (2002). Born with a bang: The universe tells our cosmic story. Nevada City, CA: Dawn Publications.Google Scholar
  35. Selby, D. (2006). The firm and shaky ground of education for sustainable development. Journal of Geography in Higher Education, 30(2), 351–365.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  36. Stein, Z., Connell, M., & Gardner, H. (2008). Exercising quality control in interdisciplinary education: Toward an epistemologically responsible approach. Journal of Philosophy of Education, 42(3–4), 401–414.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  37. Sterling, S. (2003). Whole systems thinking as a basis for paradigm change in education: Explorations in the context of sustainability. Retrieved from
  38. Sterling, S. (2010). Learning for resilience, or the resilient learner? Towards a necessary reconciliation in a paradigm of sustainable education. Environmental Education Research, 16(5–6), 511–528.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  39. Sterling, S. (2011). Transformative learning and sustainability: Sketching the conceptual ground. Learning and Teaching in Higher Education, 5, 17–33.Google Scholar
  40. Stone, M. (2010). A schooling for sustainability framework. Teacher Education Quarterly, 37(4), 33–46.Google Scholar
  41. Taylor, A. (2017). Romancing or re-configuring nature in the Anthropocene? Towards common worlding pedagogies. In K. Malone, S. Truong, & T. Gray (Eds.), Reimagining sustainability in precarious times (pp. 61–75). Singapore: Springer.Google Scholar
  42. Van Allsburg, C. (1990). Just a dream. Boston: Houghton Mifflin.Google Scholar
  43. Wattchow, B., Jeanes, R., Alfrey, L., Brown, T., Cutter-Mackenzie, A., & O’Connor, J. (Eds.). (2014). The socioecological educator: A 21st century renewal of physical, health, environment and outdoor education. Dordrecht, The Netherlands: Springer.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© The Author(s) 2020

Authors and Affiliations

  • Marilyn Ahearn
    • 1
  • Amy Cutter-Mackenzie-Knowles
    • 1
  • Brad Shipway
    • 2
  • Wendy Boyd
    • 3
  1. 1.School of Education, Sustainability, Environment and the Arts in Education (SEAE) Research ClusterSouthern Cross UniversityBilingaAustralia
  2. 2.School of Education, Sustainability, Environment and the Arts in Education (SEAE) Research ClusterSouthern Cross UniversityGold CoastAustralia
  3. 3.School of Education, Sustainability, Environment and the Arts in Education (SEAE) Research ClusterSouthern Cross UniversityLismoreAustralia

Personalised recommendations