Coloradans pair with Ken Burns to create online education history portal

June 20, 2014 Updated: June 20, 2014 at 8:00 am
photo - Jon Martinez, left, and Jesus Salazar are trying to start "ChronoScribe," a free interactive history website. Photo by Mark Reis
Jon Martinez, left, and Jesus Salazar are trying to start "ChronoScribe," a free interactive history website. Photo by Mark Reis 

"Boring," "irrelevant" and "dead" won't be attached to the word "history" anymore if the big-scale dream of three entrepreneurs plays out as they envision.

Colorado engineers Jon Martinez and Jesus Salazar have partnered with well-known historical documentarian Ken Burns to develop an online education history portal called Chronoscribe.

The concept, said Martinez, a Colorado Springs father of three young boys, is to index the world's history by time and location, put the information on a virtual globe and allow all computer users to access, share and contribute either publicly or within personal networks.

Think something like an offspring of Wikipedia, Google Earth and Facebook.

"The idea that history is for historians isn't right. We're living history all the time, but we distance ourselves from it, like we aren't part of it," Martinez said. "Chronoscribe makes people very much a part of history."

The site will bring the past into the present by compiling world history facts in one place, he said, and presenting the material in a visually appealing and intellectually stimulating way. Augmentations for classrooms, with tools for teachers and students, also are planned.

While encyclopedias haven't been a bookshelf staple for years, an interactive history website is an idea whose time has come, the creators say.

"When Osama bin Laden got assassinated, it took us a few weeks to find out where that was and all the details. Our site would have it all together for you," said Martinez, who left his job as a civil engineering consultant to focus on Chronoscribe.

And, "Instead of reading pages and pages of narrative, you'll get to see how history plays out in a visual representation that gives an eagle's-eye view," Salazar said.

Years ago, the two were roommates at the Colorado School of Mines, where both earned engineering degrees.

Salazar is the son of former Colorado Rep. John Salazar and nephew of former U.S. Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar. He lives in Denver and specializes in information technology consulting. He said he's built large-scale websites for several companies, including Frontier Airlines, GameStop and Colorado School Grades.

Like the concept of Chronoscribe being for, by and about users, the originators hope everyone will want to contribute a buck or two to get it going.

The team is launching an crowdfunding campaign Saturday and for 60 days will collect investments from $1 on up for Chronoscribe's startup.

Martinez said he and his two business partners hope to raise $500,000 for a website debut in early 2015. People also can support the project by liking the website and sharing it online, he said. Advertising also will be incorporated.

Burns' knowledge has been invaluable to the admittedly huge undertaking, Salazar said.

"He's been doing historical research for decades and not only knows great subject matter, but also how data should be used and displayed," Salazar said.

Having a famed filmmaker involved doesn't hurt. Burns' historical films have won 12 Emmy awards and two Oscar nominations. In 2008, he received a Lifetime Achievement Award from the Academy of Television Arts & Sciences.

"Ken's brought a lot of credibility to the project," Salazar said. "It's a big-scale project, and his faith in our ability to roll it out really says something."

Burns, whose new seven-part series, "The Roosevelts: An Intimate History" will broadcast in the fall, has made several promotional videos for Chronoscribe, one of which says: "Imagine if you could go any place in the world at any time and see what it was like, individually, by time and location."

The project goes beyond an online chronicle, Salazar said.

"It's a key point to knowing history. You get a better sense of where people are coming from and why they are the way they are," he said. "That understanding helps make the world a better place."

And, as Salazar and Martinez joke: "If you can sell two engineers on how to love history, the rest of the world shouldn't be a problem."

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