Table of Contents

A. Motivation and Introduction
B. Utility
C. Comparision to current alternatives
D. Use scenarios
E. Credits

A. Motivation and Introduction

Big History” is a new and emerging field that attempts to unify the past — all of the past — from the beginning of time, through the four major historic regimes of Cosmic, Earth, Life and Human history, up to the present. It offers a broad understanding of how the past has unfolded, and the opportunity to think about what unifying characteristics there may be in all kinds of history. It presents a motivation for bridging the intellectual chasm between humanities and sciences.

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Because the field of Big History studies all 13.7 billion years from the Big Bang to the present, a tool to aid the comprehension of time relationships between events, trends and themes is necessary. ChronoZoom is an intuitive, visual approach to fulfilling this void.

At the same time, as the number of electronic resources and specialized online collections containing articles, images, video, sound and other multimedia grow at an increasingly faster rate, there becomes a need to organize, catalogue and unify similar resources. ChronoZoom is a step toward enabling users to browse knowledge, rather than searching, by linking relevant online resources to fixed time scales in an organized and logical manner. ChronoZoom is a tool for instructors, students and the general public to discover new knowledge through information organization.

B. Utility

The primary goal of ChronoZoom is to make time relationships between different studies of history clear and vivid. In the process, it provides a framework for exploring related electronic resources. It thus serves as a “master timeline” tying together all kinds of specialized timelines and electronic resources, and aspires to bridge the gap between the humanities and the sciences and to bring together and unify all knowledge of the past.

Because ChronoZoom is intended for anyone interested in the emerging field of Big History, or in any of the component historical regimes (cosmology, astronomy, geology, paleontology, evolutionary biology, archaeologoy and historipgraphy), it may become the critical, first-response tool for educators and students of all branches of history, and for the general public.

ChronoZoomʼs features make it a useful tool for browsing all of history. It becomes a gateway to online resources including scholarly articles, lectures, photographs, video, audio and other multimedia. Rather than anticipating a usersʼ specific query like a search engine, ChronoZoom facilitates browsing and self-discovery of existing knowledge. Nearly all of human knowledge can be organized within ChronoZoom since time is among one of the few enduring and continuing constants in our universe. In this light, ChronoZoom is similar to the goal of a search engine, but approaches the problem from a different perspective.

In many ways, the power to browse online collections is more useful than the ability to search it. The human mind excels at pattern matching, detection and associations– all things search engines today cannot do. ChronoZoom is a tool that interfaces online resources with the way our minds work.

C. Comparison to current alternatives

The primary difference between present day online interactive timelines and ChronoZoom is that present day versions predominately use a linear scale, while ChronoZoom uses Microsoft Seadragon Deep Zoom technology, moving along the z-axis. In the traditional linear timeline, the oldest event is placed at the left end of the line, and the most recent event is placed at the right end. Events and points of information are placed chronologically from left to right.

The linear format severely limits the amount of time that may be shown and the number of intermediary events because the userʼs display space is often very limited. A linear timeline that is set to display events over hundreds, or thousands of years severely loses resolution in the information it displays. In an attempt to circumvent this problem, unified timelines usually adopt a log scale, since the display area is usually fixed. However log scales introduce such severe distortion that they probably cause more confusion than understanding.

Because Big History operates on scales from years to billions of years, a completely new kind of interactive timeline is required to display events and points of information. ChronoZoom applies Seadragon Deep Zoom technology to the problem, sacrificing neither precision nor the number of events that may be included in the set.

Seadragon Deep Zoom technology allows for a highly visual method of exploring billions of years with ease. Instructors, students and other users will find that navigating through billions of years can is as easy as using a scroll mouse and issuing a few clicks.

For more information on Sea Dragon Deep Zoom technology, click here.

D. Use scenarios

We envision ChronoZoom as a useful learning tool for instructors and students of various disciplines of science and history for visualizing large amounts of time and accessing related electronic resources. Among them are: cosmology, astronomy, geology, paleontology, evolutionary biology, archaeology and historiography. However, since the timescales encompassed by ChronoZoom are interdisciplinary, any number of fields and general interest apply.

ChronoZoomʼs gateway function to other online electronic resources and databases serves to unifying and organize existing online collections. Today, many online electronic resources are available to educators. Schools and universities invest thousands of dollars to subscribe to these collections. The current means for educators and students to locate information within these collections is by a search.


Consider the case where the user does not know what to search for, or which collection to search in. Browsing such information databases is extremely difficult. At best, some collections allow for text based, library-style index cataloguing of resources. However, as collections grow in size, the time required to browse by a text based index becomes impossible. ChronoZoom may one day fill this gap by providing a visual means of unifying various collections against the permanence of time. With ChronoZoom as the interface to various resources, the utility of each individual collection is increased– ChronoZoom helps users find what they are looking or.

E. Credits

Earth and Planetary Science
University of California, Berkeley

Roland Saekow
Walter Alvarez

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Goldie Chaudhuri
Karan Singh
Melinda Minch
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Microsoft Research
Daron Green

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University of California, Berkeley
Michael Katz
Kathleen McCowin
Lawrence Lau
Eric Giegerich