Marian U 'Big History' weekly class starts Jan 28

Think big. Very big. Marian University Associate Prof. Richard Whaley and geologist Herman Bender are returning to the Fond du Lac Public Library with a history class that takes a gigantic step back, “The Big History of the Upper Midwest and Wisconsin: From the Big Bang to Today.”

This will be the second year that Marian University brings a credited class off campus and opens it up to the public for no charge; the American History class at the library last year was met with standing room only crowds and rave reviews, surprising just about everyone.

“It’s clear that learning and history are Fond du Lac favorites,” said library Director Jon Mark Bolthouse. “We are very grateful to Marian University and to Rick and Herman for bringing these outstanding opportunities to a very appreciative public.”

The class will meet at 6 p.m. every Wednesday starting January 28 in the library’s McLane Meeting Room in the lower level. The final class will be April 29. There will be no class on Wednesday, March 18, during spring break.

As he did last year, Bender will bring items from his personal collection of antiques and antiquities to illustrate various points in the Big History, including rocks, fossils, artifacts and maps.

The class will employ the lens of “Big History,” an emerging academic discipline that acknowledges the interconnectedness of
everything over time. Starting with the Big Bang and ending with statehood, the class will take an incredible 13.7 billion-year journey through time and space. There will be plenty of time for questions and discussion.

“Big History has emerged in the past 20 or so years as a way of exploring history in a way that allows us to see how everything in the natural world has an impact on who and what we are,” Whaley said. “It shows us why we are the product of our environment. Big History lets us explore the past in all of its many aspects so we can answer the how, what, and whys of history. It centers historians on the study why humanity shares a common past, and not just on isolated events.”

The first four to five weeks will focus upon what Big History is and explore the universe and the creation of stars, galaxies, solar systems, planets and their impact on the course of human history. Then the emphasis will shift to the geology of Wisconsin, including the Great Lakes and Niagara Escarpment, a 3.5 billion-year span, again with a focus on their impact on humanity. From there the class moves through the Pleistocene Ice Age to the arrival of native peoples in the Americas, and the period of European contact in the Upper Midwest, a journey of at least 20,000 years. The last weeks will trace the period from 17th century, when Native Americans and Europeans first interacted, to statehood in 1848.

Whaley received his master’s and doctorate in history from the University of North Dakota. He has 42 years of teaching experience, with the last 21 years in Marian’s History Dept., where he has taught American history, geography, American government and honors classes. Whaley’s particular interests include American history and the Civil War. He’s traveled extensively in the United States and Europe.

Bender is an independent researcher, writer and editor. His professional background includes geology and a technical field in industry. He is internationally published in the fields of applied geophysics, cultural landscape studies, prehistoric trails, archeoastronomy (prehistoric astronomy beliefs plus site investigations) and cosmology as a recognized specialist in Plains and Woodland Native American astronomy traditions. He collects American antiques, rare and historic maps and prints, Indian artifacts and antique Oriental ceramics.

Class outline*
Jan. 28: The Big Bang and formation of the universe
Feb. 4: The Big Bang continues, plus early geologic history of the Great Lakes area
Feb. 11: More on early geologic history (3.5 billion years)
Feb. 18: Niagara Escarpment geology and cultural history
Feb. 25: The Ice Age and Ice Age landscapes
March 4: Native Americans, Paleo people
March 11: Native American Archaic and Woodland Periods
March 18: No class/spring break
March 25: Prehistoric trails, the first interstate roads
April 1: Manitou stones from coast to coast
April 8: Native American (mythic) landscapes of the Black Hills and southeastern Wisconsin
April 15: Anatomy of a site in North Dakota connecting the waterways and Great Plains with the Midwest
April 22: Mapping the world
April 29: Wisconsin Territory to statehood (last class)
*This is a general outline; topics may shift week to week as the class gets underway.

Waterfall photo:
Volcanic rock (basalt) dating back 1.1 billion years is on gorgeous display in Copper Falls State Park in Wisconsin's Ashland County.

Fossil photo:
This 430 million-year-old fossil from the Silurian period was found in southeastern Wisconsin.

Woolly mammoth photo:
During the Pleistocene epoch, woolly mammoth roamed the area now known as Kettle Moraine in southeastern Wisconsin. Illustration courtesy Wisconsin Dept. of Natural Resources.

Clovis points photo:
These Clovis points, about 11,500 years old, were recovered in the 1930s from a paleo hunter campsite in Fond du Lac.

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