Section: Features

Philosophy students host ‘Big History’ tour on Middle Path

Philosophy students host ‘Big History’ tour on Middle Path

Qinuo Wei ’22 assumed the role of “The Future” at the tour’s finish. | DEVON MUSGRAVE-JOHNSON

From the Big Bang to the discovery of fire to the future of our planet, students displayed the entire history of our universe across campus during Common Hour on Tuesday, April 23.

Students from Professor of Philosophy Yang Xiao’s The Anthropocene as a Philosophical Problem (PHIL 190) lined Middle Path from the base of Old Kenyon to the Village Market, each representing a different point in history.

The aim of the project was to represent “Big History” — as opposed to merely human history  — and generate discussion about human impact on the planet and on climate change.

“The way we’ve been talking about it is that 13.5 billion years dwarfs the imagination. So, if you scale it back and just make it 13.5 years, humans have only existed for like 30 seconds,” Logan Whitcomb ’20, a student in Xiao’s philosophy class, said. “It’s important as we further seek to understand climate change that we consider that history goes back long before us.”

Whitcomb was stationed at the start of Middle Path and represented the Big Bang with a marble dropping into a bucket of water, creating a ripple effect and eventually expanding into the universe as we now know it.

As onlookers made their way from this starting point, each foot represented 20 million years of history; once they passed Sam Mather, 10 million; then beyond Ransom, 4000; then four after the Gates of Hell. Austin Hulse ’19 contributed to the project by calculating where on the path each milestone should be placed and how many years each distance should represent.

“The idea is that history isn’t just in the past to be forgotten,” they said. “As we walk through Middle Path, we are literally walking through history in this place that has been shaped and transformed by the past.”

As students exited their morning classes at Common Hour, the spectacle of this art project greeted them. Many took the time to stop and ask the participants questions.

Jeremy Stern ’19 stationed himself toward the end of the timeline and represented James Hanson’s 1988 testimony to Congress on climate change. He wore a suit and sat at a table positioned in the center of the path, ready to answer any questions from passersby.

“There’s been a good amount of people who have stopped and asked us about what’s going on,” Stern said. “I think people are generally positive and seem interested in what we have to say.”

Other students in the class dressed up as the sun, taped informative signs to their clothing or posed with props made out of trash to visually demonstrate their points, all leading to Qinuo Wei ’22 who represented the future by winding string across two trees, effectively blocking the path and holding up a sign that read “At current rates of production, oil will run out in 53 years, natural gas in 54, coal in 110, fossil fuels in less than 200.”

Make sure to watch the Collegian‘s video coverage of the event.

Michael Lahanas-Calderon ’19 contributed reporting.


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