dhr. dr. F. (Fred) Spier

  • Faculteit der Natuurwetenschappen, Wiskunde en Informatica
  • Bezoekadres
    Science Park A
    Science Park 904  Kamernummer: C3.112
  • Postadres:
    Postbus  94224
    1090 GE  Amsterdam
  • F.Spier@uva.nl
    T: 0205255183
    T: 0205255190

Dr. Fred Spier


Fred Spier is Senior Lecturer in Big History at the University of Amsterdam. He has organized and taught the annual 'Big History Course' at the University of Amsterdam between 1994 and 2016; the annual 'Big History Lecture Series' at Eindhoven University of Technology between 2003 and 2013; and the 'Big History Course' at Amsterdam University College since 2009. He also team taught big history at several other educational institutions in the Netherlands, while he has given numerous lectures about this subject in a great many countries.


Spier has performed research in a wide range of academic fields, including: the genetic manipulation of plants in the 1970s; religion, politics, and ecology in Peru between 1982 and 1997; structuring and explaining big history as of 1993; as well as a great many general and specific themes within big history mentioned in his list of publications.


Spier's general paradigm for big history is now increasingly adopted by other big history scholars, most notably in the college textbook Big History: Between Nothing and Everything (2014) by David Christian, Cynthia Brown and Craig Benjamin and the secondary school program Big History Project sponsored by Microsoft cofounder Bill Gates.


Spier's trend-setting book The Structure of Big History (1996) offered the first contours of this approach, while his ground-breaking article How Big History Works: Energy Flows and the Rise and Demise of Complexity (2005), downloadable below, presented the first general outline of his explanation of big history, which is valid for all scales of history.


Spier's book Big History and the Future of Humanity, Wiley-Blackwell (2010) offers an improved and much more detailed version of this argument, including an entire research agenda for big history. This book has received worldwide acclaim. The paperback version was released in January 2011. It is now also in use as a textbook for university big history courses around the world. A translation into Spanish was published in 2011; into Arabic in 2015; and into Chinese in 2017.


The improved and expanded Second Edition was published in April 2015. This edition incorporates the latest academic views while adding discussions of important themes in 23 text boxes, ranging from the 'Origin of Cosmic World Views' to 'How Violent Have Humans Been?' Translations into Chinese and Korean are scheduled to be published in 2018.


To improve academic big history teaching, Spier has been developing innovative courses and teaching tools using in-class emiprical observations for students of many kinds. He is also designing short big history courses tailored to the needs of businesses and other organizations. He is also further defining a big history research agenda.


In addition to further elaborating his general underlying theoretical approach to big history, Spier has been investigating a number of big history themes, including: general theories of human history, of life, and of the biosphere, all within the context of the general underlying theory of big history; the history of big history; the origins and development of morality; navigation and mapmaking, and its consequences for human history; the nature of academic research across all disciplines; and a little big history of the city of Speyer, Germany.


Over the past 20 years Spier has promoted big history in countries all around the world. Between 2011 and 2014 he was the Founding Vice President of the International Big History Association (IBHA), while he served as its President between 2014 and 2016. Spier was Program Chair of the IBHA inaugural conference held in August 2012 at Grand Valley State University, Grand Rapids / Allendale, and a member of the Program Committee for the August 2014 IBHA conference at Dominican University of California at San Rafael, where he delivered the final keynote speech 'The Future of Big History.' He was again a member of the Program Committee for the July 2016 IBHA conference at the University of Amstrdam, where he delivered the opening keynote "Unexpected Goldmines."


Earlier Research
Between 1982 and 1992 Spier executed a historical and cultural anthropological research project on religion, politics and ecology in Andean Peru. This led to the publication of two books. His highly-praised book Religious Regimes in Peru (1994) is a long-term study of religion and politics in Peru viewed from a world-historical perspective, while his second book San Nicolás de Zurite (1995) offers detailed anthropological and historical case studies of the same theme. For his book Religious Regimes in Peru Spier was awarded a 1993 Praemium Erasmianum Study Prize as an outstanding dissertation. In 1996 Spier presented his findings in Cusco at the Universidad Nacional San Antonio Abad during several exciting academic meetings, including an official book presentation in the Salón de Grados of UNSAAC in the very center of Cusco. This led to considerable recognition of his work in Peru at the regional and national levels. The US anthropologist Eric Wolf used Religious Regimes in Peru during the 1990s while teaching at the Graduate School of the City University of New York.


University Education
In 1978 Spier received a M.Sc. in biochemistry with distinction at the University of Leiden, NL, with research experience in plant genetic engineering and the synthesis of oligonucleotides. In 1987 Spier obtained an M.A. in cultural anthropology at the Free University Amsterdam (cum laude -- the highest distinction in the Netherlands) and in 1992 a Ph.D. in cultural anthropology and social history (cum laude) at the University of Amsterdam.


Spier, Fred. (2017). 大历史与人类的未来/格致人文读本 Big History and the Future of Humanity (Chinese). Shanghai, Truth & Wisdom Press.

Spier, Fred. (2015). Big History and the Future of Humanity, Second Edition. Malden, MA, Oxford, UK, Wiley-Blackwell.

Spier, Fred. (2015).  التاريخ الكبير ومستقبل البشرية Big History and The Future of Humanity (Arabic), translated by: عزت عامر Izzat Amer. Cairo, المركز القومي للترجمة National Center for Translation and Enlightenment.

Spier, Fred. (2011). El lugar del hombre en el cosmos: La Gran Historia y  el futuro de la humanidad. Barcelona, Spain, Editorial Critica.

Grinin, Leonid E., Carneiro, Robert L., Korotayev, Andrey V. & Spier, Fred (eds.). (2011). Evolution: Cosmic, Biological,and Social. Volgograd, 'Uchitel' Publishing House.

Spier, Fred. (2010).  Big History and the Future of Humanity. Malden, MA, Oxford, UK, Wiley-Blackwell.

Blank, Paul W. and Spier, Fred. (eds.). (2002).  Defining the Pacific: Opportunities and constraints. London, Ashgate.

Spier, Fred. (1996).  The Structure of Big History: From the Big Bang until Today. Amsterdam, Amsterdam University Press.

Spier, Fred. (1995).  San Nicolás de Zurite: Religion and daily life of a Peruvian Andean village in a changing world. Amsterdam, VU University Press.

Spier, Fred. (1994).  Religious Regimes in Peru: Religion and state development in a long-term perspective and the effects in the Andean village of Zurite. Amsterdam, Amsterdam University Press.


2010 - Present: Founding Member and first Vice President of the International Big History Association (IBHA) and, between 2014 and 2016, its second President.
2001 - Present: Member of the editorial board of the journal Social Evolution & History.
1998  : Chairing the World History Association Committee for Scholarship Reform, together with Dr. Maghan Keita, Villanova University, Villanova, Pa.
1996 - 1999 : Member of the Executive Council of the World History Association .


Web sites



  • Spier, F. (2016). Early State Formation from a Big History Point of View. In M. Fernández-Götz, & D. Krausse (Eds.), Eurasia at the Dawn of History: Urbanization and Social Change (pp. 127-138). New York, NY: Cambridge University Press. DOI: 10.1017/9781316550328.008  [details] 


  • Spier, F. (1997). Orientatie-onzekerheid, kaartenmaken en Geschiedenis in het Groot. In J. Heilbron, N. Wilterdink, & A. de Swaan (Eds.), Alles verandert. Opstellen voor en over J. Goudsblom (pp. 297-310). Amsterdam: Meulenhoff. [details] 


  • Spier, F. (1996). The Structure of Big History. From the Big Bang until Today. Amsterdam: Amsterdam University Press. [details] 
  • Spier, F. (1996). Conceptualizing Global History [Review of: R. Buultjes (1996) -]. In R. Buultjes, & B. Mazlish (Eds.), Unknown Boulder, Colo: Westview Press. [details] 
  • Spier, F. (1996). History of Humanity. Volume I: Prehistory and the Beginning of Civilization, e.a. [Review of: A.H. Dani (1996) Recente mensheidsgeschiedenissen]. In A. H. Dani, S. J. de Laet, J. L. Lorenzo, & R. B. Nunoo (Eds.), Unknown New York: UNESCO/Routledge. [details] 
  • Spier, F. (1996). Medjugorje: Religion, Politics and Violence in Rural Bosnia [Review of: M. Bax (1996) Geloof en geweld in voormalig Joegoslavie]. In M. Bax (Ed.), Unknown Amsterdam: VU University Press. [details] 


  • Spier, F. (1995). San Nicolas de Zurite: Religion and daily life of an Andean village in a changing world. Amsterdam: VU University Press. [details] 
  • Spier, F. (1995). Norbert Elias' theorie van civilisatieprocessen opnieuw ter discussie. Een verkenning van de opkomende sociologie van regimes. Amsterdams Sociologisch Tijdschrift, 22(2), 297-323. [details] 


  • Spier, F. (2016). William H. McNeill: Some personal memories. Origins : International Big History Association newsletter, 6(8), 10-13.


  • Spier, F. (2015). Big History and the Future of Humanity. (2 ed.) Chichester: Wiley Blackwell. [details] 


  • Spier, F. (2013). Da li shi zhong de dao de wen ti chu tan. Quan qiu shi ping lun = Global history review, 6, 43-62, 464-465. [details] 



  • Goudsblom, J., Aarts, W., Schmidt, C., & Spier, F. (1995). Toward a Morality of Moderation. Amsterdam School for Social science Research. [details] 
  • Aarts, W., Goudsblom, J., Schmidt, C., & Spier, F. (1995). Toward a Morality of Moderation: Report for the Dutch National Programme on Global Air Pollution and Climate Change. Amsterdam: Amsterdam School for Social science Research. [details] 
  • Aarts, W., Goudsblom, J., Schmidt, C., & Spier, F. (1995). Toward a morality of moderation. Report for the Dutch national research programme on global air pollution and climate change. Amsterdam: Amsterdamse School voor Sociaalwetenschappelijk Onderzoek. [details] 
  • Aarts, W., Schmidt, C., & Spier, F. (1995). Toward a morality of increasing moderation. In S. Zwerver, M. T. J. Kok, R. S. A. R. van Rompaey, & M. M. Berk (Eds.), Climate change research: evaluation and policy implications: proceedings of the International Climate Change Research Conference, Maastricht, The Netherlands, 6-9 December 1994. - Vol. 2 (pp. 1247-1250). (Studies in Environmental Science; No. 65B). Amsterdam: Elsevier. DOI: 10.1016/S0166-1116(06)80156-1  [details] 


  • Aarts, W., Goudsblom, J., Schmidt, C., & Spier, F. (1994). Toward a Morality of Increasing Moderation: Report to the National Research Programme on Global Air Pollution and Climate Change. Amsterdam: Amsterdam School for Social Science Recearch. [details] 


  • Spier, F. (2014). [Review of: A. Shryock, D.L. Smail (2011) Deep history: the architecture of past and present]. Journal of Modern History, 86(1), 143-145. DOI: 10.1086/674248  [details] 
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