Linear Expression of History and TimeMapper

Representing complex ideas in a graphical form is such a difficult pursuit that perhaps there can be no perfect finished product, as complex abstract ideas cannot be wholly expressed in visual terms. Grafton examines one of the  the oldest and most common ways in which we visualize history, the line. The line as a metaphor is so ubiquitous it appears to be inseparable from our understanding of the passage of time, thus its universality in chronology and graphical representations of history. The line, however important when dealing with the order of things, presents an account of history in a one-dimensional manner. History, as Grafton notes, is filled with relationships, details and digressions impossible to translate into a linear format. Graphical representation gives context to fact, establishes relationships and introduces new information- such as geography- that one might initially overlook. Above providing additional  information, graphical representations allows one to easily digest diverse forms of data. Linn’s narrative is closely effected by the events hundreds of miles from his physical location, events like outcomes of distant battles and politics in both Washington and Richmond. The responsiveness of very distant events and the personal life of a single civil war tie in closely with the developments of the 1860s. A message from across the atlantic ocean, thousands of miles from Linn’s position could alter is narrative within a matter of days or hours. One of the major events of the 1860s was the laying of the first transatlantic telegraph cable


One of the most important events in the 1860s with an influence on Linn’s life.

. Immense changes  were underway during the 1860s that are very evident in Linn’s day-to-day narrative. In fact, the first four events on the TimeMapper follow a common theme; the creation of the first intercontinental railroad, the founding of the Pony Express, the opening of the Suez Canal and the invention of the bicycle.


Here we see the first four events in the Timemapper deal with developments in travel and communication.

The world was becoming smaller, information, people and goods could be transported at an unprecedented rate. Countries and continents were interconnected in ways never before seen in history. Thus we immediately see the interweave of the events from the TimeMapper timeline and Linn’s narrative.

Blog Post #3 Prompt

“On Time”
Due Sunday 10/5 by 11pm
Thinking about how we represent history has been a question that has occupied us for millennia.  Why does chronology of events matter?  What can it show?  How can we represent history? How do we “draw time”?

In “Time and Print,” Grafton observes that “Teachers and theorists claimed, over and over again, that chronology and geography were the two eyes of history: sources of precise, unquestionable information, which introduced order to the apparent chaos of events” (Grafton, p. 17)  At the same time, the author points to Joseph Priestley, the 19th century scientist who believed that “historical narrative is not linear.” (20) So how do we reconcile linear and nonlinear time?

In the process of compiling your entries for the collective 1860s Timemapper and thinking about how time played out for Linn in his diary, how have you come to terms with the complex relationship between ideas and modes of representation?  How does graphical representation clarifiy historical events?  Where do we place Linn’s narrative within that representation? Where do the 1860s and Linn’s experience in winter 1862 fit together?

Write a 300-word blog post on this topic.  Include at least three points from Grafton’s essay in your entry and at least two illustrative screen shots from Timemapper that illustrate your argument. Give your post the category “Blog #3” and at least five tags that help you to explain your work.

In addition, choose one of your classmates’ posts and give them feedback in the Comment box. Your comment should be 50-75 words in length and respond to a specific argument that is made in the post. For example, your comment might identify a correlation between your own post and one you see in your classmate’s work; it might introduce to the post’s author a different reading of something they interpreted in the Grafton essay; or it might reflect upon ways in which you both consider Linn’s experience within a larger chronological landscape.

Week Five Assignments, Readings, Exercises

Monday 9/29

  • Lab: Timemapper

Wednesday 10/1

  • Discussion: What does time visualization tell us about Linn?

Friday 10/3

  • Close reading module introduced
  • Transcription revised and re-compiled (using marked draft transcriptions)

Sunday 10/5

  • Blog post #3 “On Time” due (11pm)

Thinking about Time and Place

One of the things I love about doing historical research is learning about the time in which an event or series of events took place. In my opinion, you cannot consider people or the experiences (or their works) in a vacuum. To me, you can’t study Shakespeare without considering what was going on in England and the world during the reign of Elizabeth I.

The same holds true for how I think we should examine James Merrill Linn’s experience in the Civil War. While he might not always talk about what is going on in the wider world, we know that he was reading newspapers, and that waiting for news from the world beyond the battlefield was what kept him and his fellow soldiers going in what can only be imagined as horrific conditions.

We’re going to spend the next week thinking about the idea of time, and how the events in Linn’s life and in the Civil War more generally played out in the context of the decade of the 1860’s in terms of society, politics, science, technology, literature, and the arts on a global scale.

To do that we’re going to collaborate on the creation of a timeline using a multimedia timeline web-based platform called TimeMapper.

I’ve started a TimeMapper instance for our class, called “1860s Events”. It looks like this:TimeMapper

Your task will be to add event “slides” to this timeline. You will use Wikipedia’s list of events for the decade of the 1860s, add text and images that describe and evoke your event, and geospatial coordinates that will identify that event with a place.[1. A helpful way to find the longitude and latitude for a city, state, province, or country is to call up that place on Wikipedia; in the right sidebar you should see a link for “Coordinates.” Click on those numbers and you will be taken to a “GeoHack” page that provides the correct longitude and latitude.] The one caveat is that you need to find events that are not about the Civil War (or at least explicitly about the Civil War.) See what else was going on in the world in the 1860s!

In order for you to begin adding information to our TimeMapper, you will input data and metadata into a special Google Form that I have set up for this purpose: HUMN 100 TimeMapper Google Form.

Added by editor: please add your event and name to the table on this Google doc: 

Email me with any questions that arise. We’ll work on the TimeMapper again on Monday.

Week Four Assignments, Readings, Exercises

Monday 9/22

  • Reading: Complete reading transcribed Linn diary
  • Discussion: keywords from distant reading as metadata
  • Lab: More complex analytical/visualization tools (cross-corpus analysis)

Tuesday 9/23

Wednesday 9/24

  • Discussion: Distant reading & blog assignment wrap-up

Blog post #2 due (11pm)

Friday 9/26

  • Reading: Watch “Secrets of the Dead: The Lost Diary of Dr. Livingstone” (available to stream on our course Moodle site)
  • Timemapper exercise introduced
  • Research topics chosen