Century Marks

Century Marks

Big history

Students at Dominican University of California are required to take a sequence of four courses in Big History, a multidisciplinary approach that begins with the origins of the universe and looks ahead to the future of the planet. Half of the course covers eras prior to human history. There is a movement to teach Big History on other campuses, and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation has funded a project to teach it at the high school level. An Inter­national Big History Association was formed last year, and a conference and journal are to follow (Inside Higher Ed, October 7).

What the doctor ordered

The Memphis-based Methodist Le Bonheur hospital system is working with 400 churches to ensure that its patients have a support system while in the hospital and when they are discharged. Hospital staff called "navigators" work with liaisons in each congregation that is part of the Congregational Health Network to arrange for visits, transportation and follow-up care. The mortality rate for those in the program from 2007 to 2009 was 50 percent lower than for those not in it, and readmission rates were 20 percent lower. The hospital system says 70 percent of its patients belong to churches (Washington Post, October 3).

Church cover blown

As commodity prices soar, thieves are targeting British churches and other institutions, taking copper lightning rods, lead rain pipes, bronze statues, iron gates, even church bells and entire roofs. "Boom conditions in China, India and Brazil have created an incredible demand for lead and copper," said a representative of a private company that insures about 90 percent of churches in England and Wales. "Church roofs are often the target, threatening some churches with bankruptcy," she said. The price of copper came close to US$10,000 a ton earlier this year, having fallen as low as $2,825 a ton in December 2008 due to the financial crisis affecting demand (ENI).

Head of the class

Harvard comes out on top in a Times Higher Education ranking of the best 200 universities in the world. No British universities made the top five. In this ranking, less weight was given to tradition and reputation and more to objective measures such as the influence of research. This shift raised the rank of several Chinese and South Korean universities. The top ten universities are Harvard, California Institute of Technology, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Stanford, Princeton, Cambridge, Oxford, University of California (Berkeley), Imperial College London and Yale (Guardian, September 16).

Land rush

Large swaths of land are being secretly bought up by international investors, especially in Africa, according to Oxfam. Much of this land is used for growing sugar cane and oil palm for biofuels rather than for growing food. In Mozambique, for instance, only 32,000 out of 433,000 hectares of land approved for sale between 2007 and 2009 were used for food crops. These land purchases by outside interests leave the former inhabitants without sufficient land to meet their own needs (Guardian, September 22).