History of the Project

The ChronoZoom project started in 2009 when Walter Alvarez, a Professor of Geology at University of California Berkeley, asked his students for ideas about how to explain the profound differences in scale between human and geologic history. 

Roland Saekow, then a student of Alvarez, proposed that they create a giant canvas to scale of all history from the Big Bang to the present, and zoom into it.  Walter and Roland began creating this canvas but soon ran into problems, as the canvas took up more memory than the human genome and required a tool that could zoom to 500,000,000,000 percent! 

To put that into perspective, Adobe Photoshop, one of the best image manipulation tools on the market, can only zoom to 6,250 percent.

Microsoft Research: Turning Ideas into Reality

Microsoft Research and Microsoft Live Labs heard about the project and saw that new deep zooming technologies could help to solve this problem.  Together with UC Berkeley that created the first prototype of ChronoZoom in 2010.

The prototype allowed viewers to efficiently browse through the massive canvas but the tool wasn’t interactive, didn’t allow authoring, and required users to install software on their computer.

There was significant interest from schools to use ChronoZoom but these limitations made it difficult to use ChronoZoom effectively in schools.  The ChronoZoom team decided to start from scratch with a new tool that would address these issues.

The development of the new version of ChronoZoom began in October of 2011 as a joint project between UC Berkeley, Microsoft Research, and Moscow State University.

The Outercurve Foundation

Ownership of the project was given to the Outercurve Foundation, an independent non-profit that manages open-source projects.  In February of 2012 the ChronoZoom beta was released.

It worked on any modern browser (even on iPhones and iPads!), required no download, and allowed users to browser and watch interactive tours that told stories across vast scales of time.  The entire source code of ChronoZoom was released open source, freely available to anyone who wanted to use it for any purpose.

The ChronoZoom beta still needed more features to be an effective tool. In particular it needed the ability for students and educators to author their own timelines and tours.  The third wave of ChronoZoom development happened in late 2012 and early 2013 with additional partners at the University of Washington.  The authoring tools were released in July of 2013.

Ready for Use

Now ChronoZoom had the basic features requested by educators but that was only the beginning.  The easiest thing about building an educational technology is building the technology.

The hard part is creating the pedagogical supports needed to empower teachers to learn how to use the technology and integrate it into their classroom practice.  In mid-2013 the ChronoZoom team began to reach out to nationally recognized education organizations in the U.S.

New York Conference

This resulted in a summit in New York with executive directors attending from a list of groups that included the National Council for Social Studies, the American Historical Association, National History Day, and the National Council for History Educators.

Also in attendance were a group of curriculum developers and subject matter experts brought together by UNC-based NC Learn to create the core curriculum.  From that meeting the plan was established to create three lesson plans that covered different approaches to teaching historical thinking.  You are now reading the results of this plan.


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