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History Channel Taps UW Professor for ‘Big History’ Series


November 13, 2013 — Nicole Waguespack has been involved in some big projects, but this one might be the biggest. As in Bill Gates big. As in “Big History” big.

Waguespack, University of Wyoming Department of Anthropology associate professor, is among a range of top scientists, educators, historians, writers and artists participating in the History Channel’s ambitious “Big History” series that looks at the past in different ways by asking questions and weaving science into the core of history.

The experts examine familiar subjects in new ways as they show the connections between ancient Egyptian mummies and cheese sandwiches, between the sinking of the Titanic and modern cell phones, and how salt contributed to New York becoming America’s biggest city. The series’ broadcast schedule can be found at www.history.com/shows/big-history/episodes.

Microsoft founder Bill Gates is one of “Big History’s” biggest fans. Realizing the television program’s educational potential, he was inspired to turn the program into an episodic series and to put his immense resources to work to develop an online, interdisciplinary curriculum designed for ninth-graders (www.bighistoryproject.com/bhplive). It tells the story of the universe and humanity through courses, quizzes, videos and other resources, using the expertise of Waguespack and others involved in the History Channel project.

“Students and teachers have access to experts talking about the big issues," Waguespack says. “Bill Gates hopes to inspire people to think about the universe in new ways.”

The show’s producer already was familiar with Waguespack’s work from an earlier History Channel project in which she appeared, called “History of the World in Two Hours.” Waguespack did not hesitate to accept when she was called and asked to participate in the “Big History” series.

Waguespack is a hunter-gatherer archeologist whose research focuses on the earliest occupants of North America. Her television credits include, among others, previous appearances on the History Channel, and as a weapons consultant on an episode of the Discovery Channel’s popular “Mythbusters” series.

For the “Big History” project, she was a natural choice to contribute perspectives about hunter-gatherer diets, and how they compare with modern diets.

“For example, I was on a segment dealing with food shopping and foraging. It was about humans and collective learning, and how our diets have changed through time,” she says. “The program makes broad connections, and tells how these seemingly different areas of science all relate to issues such as climate change, geology and local history patterns.”

While admitting she was a little leery at first to participate as an expert scientist in national television productions, Waguespack says she soon realized it was important for someone to share anthropology’s importance with a large segment of the public.

“I realized if an actual archeologist doesn’t do it, they will just hire an actor,” she says. “It’s important that we scientists are involved in opportunities to promote our profession.”

Photo:
UW archeologist Nicole Waguespack tests for buried 10,500-year-old artifacts last summer at a site in Middle Park, Colo. Her research focuses on the earliest occupants of North America.

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