Big History



Get the big picture in sometimes-violent fact-based series.

What parents need to know

Positive messages

Big History exposes historical injustices but generally takes a neutral, non-critical view of what has gone on in the past.

Positive role models

Many historical figures who can be admired are discussed, such as former U.S. presidents. However, the focus is on events, not personalities.


Big History includes some historical violence: One gory scene features a bloodstained guillotine, a terrified man, and dripping blood. Violence and blood is infrequent, though, making it a bit more surprising when it appears.

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Drinking, drugs, & smoking
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Parents Need to Know

Parents need to know that Big History is a fast-paced factual story about the underpinnings of historical events with a few bloody reenactments, making this series best for high schoolers. The show jumps quickly from topic to topic without a lot of explanation of events and concepts, so requires a reasonable acquaintance with history in order to understand what is being said. Scholarly teens and parent/child pairs who enjoy researching history will enjoy making connections between seemingly unrelated events.

Kids say

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What's the story?

History is not random, says BIG HISTORY, the fact-based series narrated by Bryan Cranston. There are secret connections between events; people, places, and things that you never thought much about that brought about much of how we live our lives today. In each half-hour episode, Big History probes the links between historical happenings, swooping from the dawn of time to ancient human history to modern-day life with dizzying speed. Along the way, actors recreate famous moments in time, or gorgeous CGI shows us how it was.

Is it any good?


Big History boasts a tying-it-all-together theme that's very appealing to the type of person who likes historical mysteries like The Da Vinci Code, showing the viewer how simple things had great reverberations throughout human existence. It's a stretch to imagine, for instance, that something as humble as salt is responsible for the way humans migrated and settled throughout the world. But Big History shows how it was done, how humans laid down roads on top of animal salt licks, how trade routes were made on top of those, how people settled around them, how all life started in the salty brine of the world's oceans.

It's mesmerizing stuff for the history nut. But younger viewers who don't know about things like the Great Wall of China or the Erie Canal, will be quickly left behind. If younger kids want to watch, parents may want to DVR Big History and watch later, so that they can pause and give footnotes to catch everybody up, since the show moves quickly from idea to idea. Otherwise, this is terrific for family viewing, with everyone coming away better-informed than they started out.

Families can talk about...

  • Families can talk about what viewers enjoy about historical shows. Do they like imagining the past? Learning new things? What do you like about watching Big History?

  • The narrator of Big History is Bryan Cranston, who is a famous television star. Why do you think the makers of Big History got a well-known voice instead of just an anonymous narrator?

  • Big History uses both live actors and computer graphics to illustrate its concepts. Can you tell the difference between the two? Why doesn't the show use one or the other all the time?

TV details

Cast:Bryan Cranston
TV rating:TV-PG

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Learning ratings

  • Best: Really engaging; great learning approach.
  • Very Good: Engaging; good learning approach.
  • Good: Pretty engaging; good learning approach.
  • Fair: Somewhat engaging; OK learning approach.
  • Not for Learning: Not recommended for learning.
  • Not for Kids: Not age-appropriate for kids; not recommended for learning.

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Educator and Parent Written bybailywick25 November 19, 2013

Ideas better understood by adults than kids

I watched this with my 5th grader (11). My 5th grader found the effects to be "cool" (they fly from scene to scene) but did not understand the content. We watched the one about Salt. The pace was too quick and the concepts too difficult. Possibly high school students could understand that this is a conceptual look at history, but they need to have some strong background in certain historical concepts, ideas and time frames.
What other families should know
Too much violence


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