Academic Skills, Technology

Timeline Wizardry!

External Timeline

External Timeline (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I’ve been searching for an easy, collaborative, and sharp-looking timeline generator for a number of years now and hadn’t had success in finding anything until a few weeks ago. Previously I checked out Dipity, XTimeline, and some clever solutions for using Google Spreadsheets to create a visual timeline; however, all the commercial sites had limitations in terms of number of users and I didn’t (at least when I experimented with it last spring) have the technical horsepower to make Brian Croxall‘s Google Spreadsheets approach work.

So, when I encountered Timeline.Verite.Co‘s timeline website and their Google Spreadsheet template I was really intrigued. Not only is the end result of their timelines stunningly attractive, but the process for inputting the data that then gets visualized is also very intuitive. The other major bonus, as I realized, is that this was my solution for a truly collaborative timeline generator, as I could have all my students simultaneously adding data, links, analysis, and images to the timeline and then get Timeline.Verite.Co‘s embed generator to spit out the final version with a minimum of technical haggling.

I experimented for the first time using the Google Spreadsheet template with my classes last week as they worked collaboratively to build a chronology of the European Age of Exploration and Colonization in the late 15th and 16th centuries. For the most part the data entry worked well and the end result was visually appealing as the students selected some nice images and maps to highlight the new nature of Atlantic and global interactions that emerged in the wake of these voyages.

Here’s what the raw material of the spreadsheet looks like:

Google Spreadsheet data for timeline

And here’s what Timeline.Verite.Co turns it into:

Screenshot of one date from student timeline of exploration and colonization.

However, in the midst of working on these timelines, I made some discoveries that might make using them in class easier.

  • I broke up sections from the reading and had small groups working on different sets of pages at the same time. However, I didn’t cordon off any specific areas of the spreadsheet for each of those groups to input data into. In a few instances this led to different groups trying to enter data into the same rows in the spreadsheet, which created confusion and slight consternation. I’d suggest designating specific sets of 10 rows for each different group.
  • Initially a few of my timelines didn’t generate in Timeline.Verite.Co and I couldn’t figure out the problem. It turned out that (after reading the very accessible FAQ), that if there are any blank rows between sets of data, the timeline generator won’t create a timeline for all the dates. As a result, I found myself having to go back once the students had finished adding the data and deleting any blank rows in order to get all the dates to appear on the timeline.
  • Related to that last point, it doesn’t matter what order you input the dates in the timeline, Timeline.Verite.Co will end up re-sequencing them automatically, which is really nice.
  • In the “tags” field, Timeline.Verite.Co allows you to select up to six different labels to categorize different events. In lieu of any specialized labels, I think it might make sense for students to use some of the popularly-used historical categories to label different events and construct further significance. Thankfully, the Gods of Historical Acronyms seem to believe that six is the perfect number for such categories, so using either SPRITE (social, political, religious, intellectual, technological, economic) or PERSIA (political, economic, religious, social, intellectual, artistic) would work well with Timeline.Verite.Co’s tagging features.
  • The “headline” column lends itself well to identifying the event, while the “text” column seems perfect for identifying significance. One of the nice things about being able to watch students build the timeline collaboratively and in real time is seeing how well students are doing with explaining the historical significance of each of these events. If some of the explanations are lacking, it’s easy to check with the student working on that event to push them to add more analysis.

I’m talking about the Thirty Years’ War with my classes this week, and as it’s an event that has a lot of different players, a number of distinct phases, and a complicated set of momentum shifts amongst the different combatants, I thought that a Timeline.Verite.Co-generated timeline would be a good tool to use in our discussion. To that end, I scoured the reading I assigned on the Thirty Years’ War from Richard Dunn’s The Age of Religious Wars, 1559-1715 and used it to create this timeline.

Here’s a look at the opening event in the chronology we’ll be discussing:

Screenshot of Thirty Years’ War Timeline

Finally, for those who are interested, here’s the link to the full version of my timeline for the Thirty Years’ War based on the Richard Dunn reading. I’ll hopefully be able to pass along a follow-up on how this activity worked, but in the meantime I hope that this advice is helpful for some others as I think Timeline.Verite.Co visualization tool is a really great one for history students and classes.

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5 thoughts on “Timeline Wizardry!

  1. This is really intriguing. Thanks, too, for putting up your sample. (My only complaint is that you don’t set your links to open up in a separate page–sometimes it takes me a while to find my way back to the blog post!) I will share this with my fellow teaching folk.

  2. Pingback: Timeline Wizardry « Nate Crowder

  3. Pingback: Timeline Wizardry | infoGraphi

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