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5 TED Talks for Aspiring Historians

History provides the opportunity for current and aspiring historians to evaluate past events through multiple sides and perspectives, offering a greater understanding of who we are collective. This form of reflection is essential for ensuring that we advance on both an individual and social level by learning from past events. The historical scholars in the following TED Talks delve into this richly detailed past of humanity in different ways, offering important tools for examining the past that can help current and future historians develop valuable lessons that can be applied in our contemporary world.

Niall Ferguson - The 6 Killer Apps of Prosperity

Niall Ferguson is a prolific best-selling author and producer of the award-winning film Kissinger. In this TED Talk, he discusses what some historians call the “great divergence,” the widening economic gap between nations of the east compared to the western world over the past few decades. Opinions differ on how western culture and society came to dominate through much of our recent history and various explanations have been proposed. A key point of consideration, as Ferguson suggests, might lie in different approaches to structuring laws of governance. Certain modes of policy and government seem more conducive to a productive and thriving body of citizens and can impact the reach and longevity of established societies. Ferguson’s insights on governmental and other facets that have impacted prosperous societies helps provide an understanding for historians on current social and economic trends.

Jean-Baptiste Michel – The Mathematics of History

Jean-Baptiste Michel is an engineer and graduate of Harvard who leads key research centers on utilizing data to study details of language and cultural history. He also holds a degree in Applied Mathematics and helped found Harvard’s Cultural Observatory. Michel’s TED Talk offers a brief glimpse into some of his research on language and cultural history and how mathematics can perhaps influence our interpretation or understanding of historical events. He believes that the historical trends and accomplishments of man can be quantified using mathematical approaches, which differs from traditional perspectives that perceive these as two separate, unconnected disciplines. Michel’s ideas demonstrate how mathematics can help shed light on war trends and other historical events, establishing a foundation for modern technology to truly connect historical theories to mathematical concepts. He believes developing and refining this digital data and new methods of analysis will make it easier to reveal historical trends in the coming years, empowering historians to leverage these data-driven capabilities to develop unique insights and scholarship in the field

Genevieve von Petzinger – Why Are These 32 Symbols Found in Ancient Caves All Across Europe

Although paleoanthropology and rock art research are very unique lines of work, Genevieve von Petzinger has dedicated much of her career to studying the geometric signs that occur in many early European Ice Age rock art sites. Through her research, Petzinger hopes to understand the development of the human mind and the evolution of creativity over time. Her TED Talk centers on defining graphic communication, an invention that allowed messages to be transmitted and observed by future generations. Graphic communication exists at many of the 150 Ice Age rock sites that have been discovered so far, with some of the most interesting symbols being geometric signs that appear throughout the rock sites. These symbols may have held specific, culturally meanings for those creating and observing them. Interpretation of these ancient symbols through Petzinger’s research has the potential to reveal much more about our human history and provide historians with a vast world of untapped knowledge about the social and cultural realities of our ancient past.

Leigh Ann Wheeler – Why Women's History Matters

Leigh Ann Wheeler is a professor of Women’s Studies at Bingham University in Minnesota. In her TED Talk, Wheeler brings up the important topic of depictions of women throughout history, and the fact that many important women have made significant contributions to society throughout time which have gone largely unnoticed. Wheeler reveals how exposure to different historical perspectives, particularly women’s history, inspired her own interest in the field. This same approach to the study of history provides her students with a valuable perspective on the topic and helps them better relate to and understand its significance. Wheeler’s TED Talk offers sound advice for educators and historical scholars as they approach the task of interpreting and reconstructing historical narratives that will grasp audiences and cultivate genuine interest in the field.

David Christian – The History of Our World in 18 Minutes

David Christian is a scholar of Russian history and currently studies world history from what he calls the “big history” perspective. Christian shares this perspective in his TED Talk and suggests benefits of insight we can glean from a broad, panoramic view on history that highlights the fragility of our complex world and understating its importance for the benefit of future generations. Within this delicate balance of fragility and complexity is where we currently live in a vulnerable world full of unlimited potential. From the formation of DNA to the development of the remarkable human brain, our human potential has increased through the ages to bring us to our current state of human evolution. Now, with the heightened interconnectivity of digital cyberspace, this human potential has combined into a collective mind that allows us to learn with miraculous speed and efficiency. This powerful vehicle, along with other recent human developments, allow for the potential of unprecedented complexity in our universe, while also bringing us to our most fragile and vulnerable state. For this reason, understanding the vast panorama of history is critical for future generations to navigate challenges and realize the greatest opportunities for human accomplishment the world has ever seen.

Having a greater understanding of history is critical for helping to provide an accurate context from which our current world can continue to thrive and ultimately advance. Through the above TED Talks, these scholars and historians offer valuable ways that students and professionals alike can develop a greater understanding of history.

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Norwich University is an important part of American history. Established in 1819, Norwich is a nationally recognized institution of higher education, the birthplace of the Reserve Officers’ Training Corps (ROTC), and the first private military college in the United States.

With Norwich University’s online Master of Arts in History, you can enhance your awareness of differing historical viewpoints while developing the skills needed to refine your research, writing, analysis and presentation skills. The program offers two tracks – American History and World History, allowing you to tailor your studies to your interests and goals.


Niall Ferguson: The 6 killer apps of prosperity, TEDGlobal 2011

Jean-Baptiste Michel: The mathematics of history, TED2012

Genevieve von Petzinger: Why are these 32 symbols found in ancient caves all over Europe?, TED Fellows Retreat 2015

Leigh Ann Wheeler: Why Women's History Matters, TEDx Binghamton University

David Christian: The history of our world in 18 minutes, TED2011

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