Online, interactive timelines support visually rich displays of information—text, images, multimedia, hyperlinks, even geospatial data—using spatial arrangements, categories, and color schemes to convey meaning, which make them ideal platforms for achieving a variety of course goals and objectives.
Timeline-based assignments can aid in a variety of learning goals, including:
Analyze non-linear relationships. Students often view history as distinctly linear: Event A happened, then Event B, then Event C. A linear view can make it challenging for students to identify relationships among events. By using spatial arrangements, categories, and color schemes to convey meaning, timelines can help students identify these complex relationships.
Develop historical context. Students sometimes have trouble seeing a particular text or invention or event in its historical context. By visually co-locating events that occurred concurrently in time, timelines can help students contextualize individual events, people, and inventions in relationship with others.
Analyze on a micro-, macro-, or mega- scale. Students sometimes view historical events on only one scale. In using a timeline, students can identify and analyze how seemingly isolated events relate to larger scale history or other micro-macro dynamics, such as local or regional histories in the context of broader national or worldwide events.
Focus on details. Large trends have little details that need to be examined. Use timelines to help your students discover how little details relate to the larger picture.
Develop arguments. Have students select several items from their timeline to develop an argument about change and/or continuity over time.
Compare time periods. Have students examine themes and concepts across two different time periods. An example used in a Religions of Japan course can be found below in the “Timeline as Analysis” section.
Document work through proper citations. Timelines are not just a product in themselves; they can also be a tool to help students learn essential research skills like citations of source material for individual entries.
Understand the development of scholarly discourse or historiography. Undergraduates can be unfamiliar with the idea of academic disciplines as culturally constructed and interpretive. By allowing students to use a timeline to plot the development of scholarly discourse, they can discover how scholars’ understandings of a key figure or subject changes over time.
Create a visual literature review. Much like understanding the development of scholarly discourse, timelines can also allow students to create a visual literature review, with an emphasis on development over time.
Visualize change (and continuity) over time and space. Timelines might consider spatial arrangements, as well as temporal ones.
Examples of Digital Timeline Projects
Jedediah Hotchkiss and The Battle of Chancellorsville
The Whiskey Rebellion - timeline and map
The Atlantic slave trade in 2 minutes (play and pause animation)
American Panorama - An Atlas of U.S. History
English Writing the future: A timeline of science fiction literature
Science Interactive timeline: Michael Faraday
(Requires Flash) Science Human Evolution Timeline
(Requires Flash) English Timeline - The British Library
Social Justice HUD Timeline
Social Justice Structural Racism Timeline
Social Justice Interactive timeline: Women's Footprint in History