On the Road with ChronoZoom


ChronoZoom travels the world

It’s been a busy month for the ChronoZoom team, as we’ve zoomed (literally) around the world promoting this amazing tool. For those of you who are coming in late, here’s a little background: ChronoZoom is an open-source community project dedicated to visualizing the history of everything. As such, it seeks to bridge the gap between the humanities and sciences and to enable a nearly inexhaustible repository of readily understandable and easily navigable information. By using Big History as the storyline, we hope to achieve a unified, interdisciplinary understanding of the history of the cosmos, Earth, life, and humanity, enabling users to understand the history of everything. Ambitious? Sure. But we’re committed to following the maxim of visionary urban planner Daniel Burnham, who said, “Make no little plans.”


Now, let me get back to the road story. Last month, I traveled to South Korea to launch ChronoZoom in Asia at the Asian Association of World Historians Conference. In Korea, I had the opportunity to represent the ChronoZoom team during a panel discussion about the “Evolution of Big History,” which was chaired by the father of Big History, David Christian of Macquarie University (check out his TED talk on Big History). Other participants included Big History leaders Craig Benjamin of Grand Valley State University, Cynthia Brown of Dominican University, Yue Sun of Capital Normal University, and Seohyung Kim of Ewha Womans University. This session served as a springboard for engaging the community of world historians in building out Asian histories in ChronoZoom. While in Korea, I was also excited to learn about pilot high school courses on Big History, some of which are using ChronoZoom in the classroom already!

Last week, my ChronoZoom teammate, Michael Zyskowski, headed to Mexico to launch ChronoZoom in Latin America at the 2012 Microsoft Research Latin American Faculty Summit. One of the highlights of the summit was the unveiling of a ChronoZoom timeline on Mayan history, covering the rise and fall of Mayan civilization and the ongoing history of ethnic Mayan identity. The content for this timeline was created by Felipe Gaytan and Camina Murillo from La Salle University in Mexico, and the results will, we are sure, encourage researchers to build additional tours and timelines of relevance to Latin America.

As faithful readers of this blog know, ChronoZoom has been a joint effort of the University of California at Berkeley, which provided content and overall vision; Moscow State University, which authored 80 percent of the software; the Outercurve Foundation, which contributed intellectual property governance; and Microsoft Research Connections, which delivered technical expertise and collaboration oversight. And this month, we are excited to be adding the University of Washington iSchool, which will focus on content strategy and the data management taxonomy.

As our trips to Asia and Latin America demonstrate, we are actively seeking additional participants for this community project. Professor Walter Alvarez and Roland Saekow of the University of California at Berkeley have been touring various universities with me, seeking partners for ChronoZoom’s ambitious goals. In particular, we are looking for help from computer science departments and from scholars in the humanities and the sciences. Here, in a nutshell, is what we’re seeking:

From computer science researchers and students: we need you to help us build the features and capabilities required for ChronoZoom to function optimally. In particular, we are seeking a computer science department to lead the technical side of the project and organize the community in collaboration with Microsoft Research. We are also looking for computer science departments to help us solve several difficult technical challenges involving content visualization, data management, and machine learning.

From professors, researchers, and students in the humanities and sciences: we need subject matter experts who can work with us to make ChronoZoom the premier platform for chronicling the history of the humanities and the sciences, and for showing how these fields have cross-pollinated one another. We want your research, lectures, and content to be present in ChronoZoom, where this information will come to life and be shared with students, educators, and researchers around the world. We also seek your feedback and help in shaping the features and capabilities that will make ChronoZoom a great teaching and learning tool.

You can find more details about these challenges in the “Big Questions” section of our ChronoZoom page. And in the “Potential Future Features” section, you’ll see where we’d like to take ChronoZoom in the months and years ahead.

If you are interested in partnering with us, please contact ChronoZoomProject@microsoft.com.

Rane Johnson-Stempson, Principal Research Director for Education and Scholarly Communication, Microsoft Research Connections

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