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For an outline of the history of the Earth and humanity on a universal scale see Big History and for a brief human history see ‘A history of the world in 10,000 words

A global context



‘ I am not an Athenian or a Greek, but a citizen of the world ‘

Socrates (469-399 BCE) in Plutarch ‘Of banishment’


‘Arguing against globalization is like arguing against the laws of gravity ’

Kofi Annan -Secretary-General of the United Nations 1997-2006

United Nations – World Citizen Badge

Badge displaying the World Citizen symbol.
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Big History ranges across the full time that the universe has existed; but if we narrow the time frame to that much smaller period when humans have occupied the planet, then our focus of interest also narrows down as we try to figure out the major factors that have influenced human history.

The article History in 10,000 words presents one broad perspective on human history for you to think about and challenge.

But from whose or what perspective do we write and study human history[8] and how are we to decide its periodization (its division into time-frames like Renaissance, Enlightenment, Late Modern and so on)?

The approach taken here is fourfold.

1. First, there is the attempt to look in a dispassionate way at the general assumptions that we humans bring to the world, especially those that arise more out of our universal human nature than our culture. This discussion can be found under the heading ‘philosophy’

2. Second, and more specifically, there is a discussion of the values that humanity shares; those beliefs that we all hold in common . . . our need for happiness and wellbeing, and the desire to live in flourishing communities

3. Thirdly, a discussion of the international program of sustainability that addresses goal 2 in a practical way

4. An examination of human history through four phases whose key features have brought us to the present moment: Natura, Agraria, Industria, and Informatia

Securing the future

A study of resources can lead us to rewarding analyses of human migration as well as imperialism, colonialism, liberation movements, and the current state of the world. When resources disappear, individual and societal behavior patterns change, and responses to scarcity become as historically important as the narrative of accumulated wealth.


History has conspired to make us a community of global citizens with a shared future and fate. To manage the planet we must work together, finding a common path in spite of our different circumstances and world views.

History is most incisive when it is describing change – whether this be in dynastic traditions, energy consumption, technology, culture, or transport systems etc. There is therefore the perception of acceleration,  a ‘speeding up’ that we feel in line with   population numbers, technology, knowledge accumulation, social organisation etc. Modern trade and communication systems have facilitated the process of globalization – the increasing interconnection and interdependence of nations. Finding a balance between national security and interests and global cooperation is an inevitable challenge for the future as countries protect their sovereignty as interests and emphasis shift between the local and the global.

As the the forces of globalization reinforce the metaphor of our planet as a global village then more decisions are being made at an international scale.

Children of the future are more likely to perceive themselves as global citizens. As global citizens they will require a knowledge of both global and national history – to explain the history and circumstances that we share as a species and to understand our human place in the world. This is a step that, history has proved, we find very difficult to take. Our biological inclination is to be suspicious of situations, places, and people that are unfamiliar.

The moral sphere

As individuals we show consideration and concern for members of our own family and community ahead of people and communities in other countries. The desire for self-preservation and enhancement has served us well, making it difficult to acknowledge that all too often others needs are the same, if not greater, than our own. Reaching out to those who are unfamiliar to us can require a special effort that takes us out of our comfort zone, there is always the temptation to withdraw into the security of the familiar.

Local communities are bound together by a shared history, geography, culture, and religion. This sense of local community can be accepting of outsiders but can also be used to emphasise difference. We all think of ourselves as unique or ‘special’ in some way, but this can be used to diminish others. Countries have ‘origin myths’ as that help create a national historical identity. The Irish and Scandinavians have written sagas of their ancient ancestors, the ancient Greeks had Homer’s Iliad and Odyssey, the Roman’s Virgil’s Aenead, the English have King Arthur, the Celts, and Anglo-Saxons, Germanic people might look to Aryan descent … and so on. A strong sense of nationhood, sovereignty, and common purpose quickly follow once a shared history is established and this is often reinforced by cultural traditions in literature, music, and art. The future will surely, for all of us, contain a mixture of the local and global. Studying global history gives us the opportunity to step beyond inward-looking national and regional histories, allowing us to view and enjoy human culture from a wider global perspective.[4]


The international community, the United Nations, has already created a vision for the future based on the concept of sustainability[1][5] – caring for planet Earth in a way that promotes the flourishing and well-being of all humans and the community of life – achieved through the efficient management of our collective environmental, social, and economic needs. This is like global mission statement. But global responsibility needs more than fine words, it must have practical programs and policies.[7] Needless to say, drawing up such a program has been a painful, halting, and drawn-out process but it is a program that we should all know about and support. To discover more about the policies you can explore the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and the 17 Sustainable Development Goals.[2]

This web site has embraced the concept of ‘sustainability’ as a convenient term indicating the desire for a shared vision of the future.

What would be an appropriate general education for a citizen of the world?

Big History

Big History is history that places humans within the timeframe of the universe and it therefore serves as a point of departure for more detailed studies covering shorter time frames. Big History[2][6] is an increasingly popular approach to teaching and introducing history in general as it provides a summary of the most recent scientific knowledge of the universe and its major transformations. This web site emphasises a scientific approach because scientific studies have yielded evidence-based practical results. However, a scientific world view may not be sufficient for many people with religious and spiritual beliefs.

Global trends

Were we to travel back through history rapidly in a time machine, with just brief pauses to meet people and experience places, we would return with an impression of general trends and major transitions that have taken place in human society and the environment. Looking briefly at these broad trends and topics can help us get closer to the consequences of the passage of time. We can then come to terms more easily with the process of history and the character of the world we live in today. These transitions and trends will appear again and again as both obvious and cryptic themes within the articles that follow. The choice of items to be included in this list is of course one of personal preference – I have chosen those that I believe have had the greatest impact on human lives, you might try to think of a more appropriate list. The topics discussed are, perhaps surprisingly, not the themes that appear very often in history books – at least not directly.

Human population

The historical acceleration in growth of the human population has impacted profoundly on the potentials and constraints influencing not only humans but the entire community of life. From about 70,000 BCE humans have expanded out of Africa into every corner of the globe. Rough statistics are sufficient to convey . About 10,000 years ago world population stood at about 1 million. In 1500 this had grown to about 135 million. In 2017 the population is 7.5 billion.

Science & technology

The practicalities of daily life have been most obviously altered by the instruments, machines, and inventions that have simplified, accelerated, and enriched our lives – everything our existence: Daily life has been most Major lifestyle changes occurred mostly after 1300 in the move from farming to manufacture: the transition from human and animal muscle power on farms to the machine power of industrial agriculture; the transition from walking and animal transport to steamships, cars, and aeroplanes; the change in communication from letters to mass-printing, telegraph, telephone, and email. You can no doubt think of further revolutionary changes gathering momentum in recent times. Once reason for this acceleration is the way that knowledge is cumulative and it develops in conjunction with efficiencies in technological application. A genius caveman could not build a computer not only because of the integration of many ideas that would be necessary but because it requires intricately manufactured components sourced from around the world.


First, there is the impact of science-based technological change addressing the need for work – the way that much of history has been about ‘getting things done’ and therefore related to the discovery of ever more effective ways of harnessing the energy of fossil fuels (coal, oil, gas) and, more recently, nuclear energy.


The other major noticeable difference has occurred with the gradual increase in democracy as power in much of the world has passed from ruling elites to become more widely distributed through society which, overall, has become less violent. From the time of Bronze Age development of large towns and cities urban societies have been strongly hierarchical. The status of citizens would be clear from the way they talked, what they wore, what they did, their legal rights and much more. Deference to social seniors was a pronounced characteristic of societies until recent times.

Though change has been mostly recent we must remember that small changes made in early formative times can result in large and widespread consequences later. While acknowledging the massive impact of the modern era on our lives, we cannot dismiss our early social history as being of little consequence.

Western social, scientific and educational traditions were laid down most emphatically by the ancient Greeks and Romans who took the education of their leaders extremely seriously. But the world has changed. Today we find the social hierarchies of the classical world presumptuous and undemocratic, and their heroic and triumphal nationalism and imperialism too aggressive and patronising and, perhaps more importantly, totally inappropriate for our present world. But the legacy of their educational enthusiasm is as important today as it ever was except today education is not just for an elite class it is, in principle at least, intended to be available for everyone. And as we are quickly coming to realise – in a globalised interconnected and interdependent world with global problems we need to educate people for a global future. This means that at least part of the education of our young citizens should be a ‘global education’.

World history, the world’s ideologies, religions and world views, and ways in which we can possibly confront and manage elements of our human nature that can so easily derail this process.

This web site focuses on the native and exotic plants of Australia, but it is not possible to consider plants on one continent without considering the global context. So much happened with plants around the world before Australia was settled – everything from the origins of agriculture to the social, political and economic upheavals resulting from the spice trade that extended from Classical times through to the 18th century, and the social consequences of producing the ‘cluster drugs’ sugar, tobacco, tea, and coffee for Europe’s elites. It was plants that played a major role in the forging of the world’s great international trade routes.

History & the acceleration of change

We are all sensitive to the pace of change. In about 10,000 BCE the world populaton was about 10 million, in 1500 it was about 135 million, in 2017 it is 7.5 billion. Through the Modern Era of western society there has been a Renaissance of ancient learning, period of global exploration as an Age of Discovery lasting from the 15th to 18th centuries, a Scientific Revolution (c. 1450-1800), an 18th century European Enlightenment marked by emphasis on science, logic and rationality, followed in turn by an Industrial and Technological Revolution and, in the early 20th century, an Electronic and Communications Revolution and late 20th century a Financial Revolution.

History as progress

For a more in-depth discussion of this theme see the article on progress
World history draws our attention to the broad social, economic and environmental themes that connect and integrate peoples while acknowledging those communities that lie outside the major networks. While integration has undoubtedly increased over time with different geographic regions ascendant at different times, history is not a path of progress leading inexorably into the stable embrace of West and/or Eastern culture. Though some peoples have benefitted, others have been dispossessed and subjugated and disadvantaged. We cannot assume with the benefit of hindsight that the path of history was inevitable or that the future is secure.

History as the ascent of the West

Though peoples may be integrated they also exist in their own right, not as part of the grand plan of another group.

World history as superficial

Of its nature world history must be concerned mostly with broad themes: – interconnection and divergence; causes and consequences of major shifts in world power; movements and institutions thatcross religious, political and cultural boundaries. Of all the many kinds of history (including environmental, feminist, cultural, local) all are valid and serve their own purpose. The strength and purpose of world history is to give us a global perspective.

World history must be huge

It is easy to assume that if the history of China occupies two volumes then a history of the world must fill perhaps ten to a hundred volumes. But we could fill many volumes with the events that occurred in a single day of our lives.

Good world history need not dazzle us with millions of facts – better if it synthesises well the major historical forces that have shaped the world as we experience it today – the number of words needed to do this is up to us.

The first known globe of the world was constructed by German explorer and cosmographer Martin Benhaim 1491-3 who worked for the Portuguese king. It had many errors and the Americas were completely absent. Chinese and Japanese maps at this time carried more description but did not attempt to give a precise physical representation of the world, with the mother countries emphasised and central, other lands peripheral and insignificant.

Global vs local

With increasing globalisation can come global homogeneity. Put simply, we all get along better if we are all the same.

One of the more noticeable factors here is the use of English as a global language, a sort of ‘globish’ (although perhaps that is a word better applied to language used in global social media). At present (2013) there are about 7000 languages spoken on Earth and these are predicted to diminish to about 1000 by 2100. Languages are just one of the many cultural losses likely to increase, others being culinary practices, local costume and dress, folk traditions, and much more. In general these traditions enrich our lives.

However, it does seem that entrenched traditions of remote, isolated communities can sometimes lead to fundamentalist and inflexible, sometimes violent, traditions. Cities, for all their disadvantages, do force us to cope with diversity – and especially racial and religious difference.

Acknowledging that globalisation carries both advantages and disadvantages we can try and tread the difficult line between maintaining our enriching local culture and identity while acknowledging our place within a greater whole – like some Irish schoolchildren who feel no threat or paradox in speaking Gaelic at home but communicating in English on the internet.

The hope is that by finding a balance between the local and global (and presumably any other ‘steps’ there are in between) we can peacefully enjoy the advantages of both.

Biological change

Considering history on the scale of Big History – as the evolution of anatomically modern humans from hominins – humans evolved from ape-like ancestors by adaptation to their environment with physical and mental biological change incorporated into DNA (equivalent to information about the world) and thus passed from generation to generation as genetic modification to existing structures – in other words natural selection. This process was vastly accelerated when information about the environment could be accumulated and improved through communication by the written and spoken word. A fact about the world transmitted in this way is called a meme. Thus humans have responded to their environment in two ways: either extremely slowly thtrough genetic change, or extremely rapidly by memetic change. These two forms of change are sometimes contrasted as biological and cultural evolution. Cultural evolution allowed humans to migrate across the world and facilitated the construction of technology such that natural environments became artificial environments of enclosed buildings and and cities with artificial lighting, heating, and cooling. Thus we have created artificial environments of biological adaptation.

Cultural evolution has transformed our lifestyles and the landscapes of the world (see Cultivated plant globalization): it has also given us insights into our evolutionary psychology. Many of the biological drives, desires, fears, and other emotions that served us well in the course of evolution are no longer appropriate in the 21st century. The evolutionary desire for sugar which has resulte in contemporary obesity is just one of many such examples. The rational control of our evolutionary psychology is a major factor bearing on the sustainability of our collective future.


Commentary & sustainability analysis

Big History provides a summary intellectual framework for the totality of knowledge that has now accumulated in numerous specialist disciplines. We learn our place in the universe in relation to the matter and energy, space and time, that arose 13.8 million years ago at the Big Bang. This is a common history and global ancestry that unites living organisms to one-another an inanimate matter. Building this framework requires a multidisciplinary approach that recognises commonalities, especially between the arts and sciences – the historicity of science (evolutionary theory of biology, astronomy, dating and stratigraphy in geology) and best interpretation in the arts (archaeological and documentary evidence) but especially in relation to addressing problems of the future. Big History encourages clear thinking about claims of knowledge as evidence that comes from either intuition, logic, authority, or empirical assessment. Being aware of the framework of Big History enriches our perspective on existence. Placing ourselves in all space and time is akin to the universe reflecting on itself – it is matter that has become aware of its own existence. And there is always more to learn.

The perspective of this web site is plants. Young people wishing to study plants are often attracted by their wonder, beauty, and diversity – their use in gardens, as food, as well their significance in history and human affairs. While science has an important part to play in our lives, and is critical for the future of humanity, it can bypass the vitality, excitement, intellectual history and, above all, the meaning of plants in the modern world.

This web site is intended as a remedy to modern specialization providing those interested in plants with a richer experience of the plant world by placing plants within their global historical context that includes the history and philosophy of science and ideas.

Globalization timeline

A computer needs global social organization to gather the resources that are required. It is the uneven distribution of human, mineral and organic resources across the planet that creates todays trade network. In general the more complex the system and greater the encouragement of innnovation the greater the wealth generated but this can be exported as occurred with China. Science and technology entail embedded knowledge, the average automobile today linked to 100,000 patents. After 1950 there was a Great Acceleration in human population, economic activity, and per capita GDP.

The rate of environmental, social, and economic change has closely matched the rate of increase in human population – 10 million in 10,000 BCE, 135 million in 1500, and 7.5 billion in 2017. The population explosion that occurred between 1700 and 1900 was accompanied by a massive increase in technological capacity as a consequence of the Scientific and Industrial Revolutions that occurred through the Age of Discovery which was marked by northwestern European maritime colonial expansion away from the old Mediterranean trade routes and into the Atlantic, Indian, and Pacific Oceans to develop a truly global economy dominated by European (mostly British) values, traditions, and social institutions. Collectively this has become known as the Great Divergence.

While Empires are known for their greed and exploitation of the weak, they have also brought some peace (Pax Romana, Pax Britannica) and administrative order. In a world that is economically unified, the end of empire also resulted in fragmentation. Just before WW1 imperialism had reduced the number of independent countries to 59. With decolonization this number had increased to 74 by 1946, 89 by 1950, 192 in 1995, and 195 in 2022. Anglophone economic and political liberalism still holds sway.

Between 1960 and 2000, even after two world wars, the population would again double in the Great Acceleration whose technology now created a transport and communication revolution as part of an electronic age in a world strongly influenced by America and American culture. The last decade or so has seen China adopt a market economy and rapid economic growth.


100,00 BCE – Modern era Globalization of Homo sapiens
10,000-8,000 BCE – Sedentary cultures emerge in West Asia/North Africa
9,700 BCE – End of last Ice Age and beginning of Holocene
3,500 BCE – Wheeled vehicles appear in various locations from the Indus Valley to Mesopotamia, the Caucasus and Central Europe
3,200 BCE – Earliest known writing appears in Mesopotamia
700 BCE – First coins minted by ancient Lydians
600 BCE – Writing appears independently in Mesoamerica
312 BCE – Work on first aqueduct commenced in Rome
200 BCE – paper invented in China



618-907 – First paper money produced in China
800 – Gunpowder invented in China
c.1000Vikings sail to North America
1450 – First European printing press invented
1492-1504 – The voyages of Columbus
1492 – Dawn of ‘Age of Discovery’
1519-1522 – Spanish (Magellan) lead the first circumnavigation of the Earth
1350 – 1650 – Renaissance (approximate dates)
1517 – Protestant Reformation begins in Germany
1550-1800Scientific Revolution (approximate dates)
1582 – Gregorian (Western) calendar developed
1625 – Publication of On the Law of War and Peace by Hugo Grotius marking the beginnings of international law
1648 – End of Thirty Years War in Europe symbolizing beginnings of sovereign state system
1650 – 1800Enlightenment (approximate dates)
c.1700 – North and South America fully colonized by European settlements
c.1750-1850 – The Industrial Revolution in Britain
1764 – James Hargreaves invents the Spinning Jenny
1769 – James Watt improves the steam engine, subsequently harnessed for industrial and transport uses. Richard Arkwright develops the water frame
1779 – First steam powered mills. Samuel Crompton invents the mule combining the spinning jenny and water frame
1794 – Eli Whitney patents the cotton gin
1801 – Richard Trevithick reveals the steam locomotive
1821 – Michael Faraday develops the fundamental basis for the electric motor
1834 – Charles Babbage develops the forerunner of the computer
1837-1844 – Samuel Morse invents the telegraph
1843 – The first large, iron, steamship
1855 – Henry Bessemer invents a method for processing steel out of iron
c.1800 – Australasia and the Pacific opened up to European influence
1817 – New York Stock Exchange established
1840 – First World Ant-Slavery Convention held in London
1851 – First World Fair held in London
1844 – Greenwich Mean Time established
1874 – Universal Postal Union established
1876 – Alexander Bell patents first practical telephone
1896 -First modern Olympic Games held in Athens
1899 – First International Peace Convention held in The Hague
1903 – First manned, powered flight by Wright Brothers in US
1914-1918 – First ‘World’ War
1918-1919 – First truly global pandemic in the form of influenza infected one-third of the world population and killed 50 million
1919 – League of Nations established
1929 – First global financial crisis triggered by stock market crash on Wall Street leading to Great Depression
1939-1945 – Second ‘World’ War
1936 – The UK’s BBC transmits first television service
1945 – United Nations established
1945 – International Monetary Fund (IMF) becomes operational
1945 – Cold War commences
1945-1970 – Main period of decolonization
1948 Universal – Declaration of Human Rights
1955 – First MacDonald’s Restaurant opens
1957 – First Satellite launched by Soviet Union
1961 – ‘Globalization’ first appears in Webster’s dictionary
1964 – First desktop computer produced
1964 – First commercial fax machine patented
1973 – First handheld mobile phone produced
1973-1975 – Global recession follows oil crisis
1979 – Smallpox eradicated worldwide
1988 – Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) established by UN
1989 – Cold War ends
1991 – Word Wide Web established
1992 – First Earth Summit held in Rio de Janeiro
1992 – First machine-generated SMS or text message sent
1993 – First Web browser released
1994 – First International WWW conference held at CERN in Switzerland where the web originated
1995 – World Trade Organization (WTO) established
1999 – Euro introduced to world financial markets
2000 – Pyrenean Ibex declared extinct
2001 – World Trade Centre in New York destroyed by Islamic extremists on ‘9/11’
2001 – Wikipedia launched
2004 – Facebook launched
2005 – YouTube launched
2006 – West African Black Rhino declared extinct
2007 – Apple launches iPhone
2007-2008 – Global Financial Crisis begins in banking industry
2009 – Sovereign debt crisis in Europe
2010 – Apple launches iPad
2011 – World population surpasses 7 billion
2011 – South Sudan becomes world’s 193rd independent state
2012 – Construction of world’s first 1-gigawatt wind farm commences in UK
2013 – IPCC delivers 5th assessment report on climate change

Page Menu


... time frames

... the pace of change


... Globalization

... Sustainability

... The moral sphere


... global trends




Media library

The first three videos here give an outline of what we mean by ‘globalization’. The fourth is a discussion, by public intellectual Yuval Harari, of the way these changes have influenced global relations in the 21st century.

Globalization I - (trade)

Crashcourse – John Green – 2012 – 11:50

The Story of the 21st Century – Yuval Noah Harari

SBS SDF – 2020 –  43:33

Globalization II - (trade)

Crashcourse – John Green – 2012 – 13:54

Globalization - Rise of Networks - Documentary

Systems Innovation
2019 – 1:02:17




First published on the internet – 1 March 2019
. . . revised – 29 August 2020

Scheduled airline traffic in 2009
Map of scheduled airline traffic around the world, circa June 2009. Contains 54317 routes, rendered at 25% transparency. Base map is NASA Blue Marble (PD) plus airports from file:World-airport-map-2008.png, route data is from Airline Route Mapper, rendering by OpenFlights (Open Database License). PHP source code for rendering available at the OpenFlights SVN.

Courtesy Wikimedia Commons – Jpatokal – Accessed 15 October 2020

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