ChronoZoom to the Rescue!

Published:March 27, 2012 by Brendan Wolfe

From Robert Wright:

While a student at UC Berkeley, Roland Saekow had the idea for a tool that would help people visualize history—all the way from the big bang to yesterday—and zoom in on whatever parts interest them. Called ChronoZoom, it’s kind of like Google Maps for the fourth dimension, and it will get richer and richer as it’s fleshed out wiki-style. Here Saekow demonstrates:

In the video, Saekow hypes his new tool:

I really hope this can revolutionize the teaching of history by making it such a visual experience. So rather than just a list of dates you have to memorize and stories that you have to read about in a book, you can actually see them in time and see what happened when Newton was making his discovery in other parts of the world—what made it possible for Newton to even come up with those theories, the people that came before him and how the world changed after Newton. As an example. So we really hope we can revolutionize the teaching of history and make it a much more exciting subject.

A couple thoughts: One, we love visualization tools here at Encyclopedia Virginia, whether it’s mapping or even the visualization of personal and professional relationships. We’re working on both tools even as I type. And two, yes, history was, is, and forever ought to be more than just a list of dates you memorize. But in order to make history “a much more exciting subject,” you don’t just build a whiz-bang tool. A whiz-bang tool, by itself, does not make history matter. It doesn’t make history meaningful. For that you need questions:

For instance, what is Encyclopedia Virginia‘s version of the Civil War and what is David Bryant’s? How are they different and why? And issues of inbreeding aside, what is going on these days that makes such arguments so persistent and so vitriolic?

OK, ONE MORE THOUGHT: Notice in the video that Roland Saekow suggests a version of his tool geared not toward contributions from the “crowd” but instead from experts. Encyclopedia Virginia is a tool that has walked the sometimes uncomfortable line between a faith in both online accessibility and scholarly accountability. What’s surprising is that now even someone like Nick Denton of Gawker is coming around:

[Denton] recently told an audience at SXSW that while he thought anonymity is “at the heart of the Internet,” he’s lost faith in, or maybe just patience with, comments sections: “The idea of capturing the intelligence of the readership—that’s a joke,” he said. Denton’s next move is comments sections with a guest list: “What I want is, I want the sources—I want the experts to be able to comment in these discussions.”