Blog Post 3: The History of Chronology

Throughout history, the ability to get chronology correct has been vital. Grafton states, “For Christians, getting chronology right was the key to many practical manners…” (1). It is after using Timemapper that I can truly appreciate how writing needs to be represented in a form that can easily depict change over time. What is Timemapper one may ask? Timemapper is an online tool that is used to piece together timelines in which one can choose the duration. For example, our class chose the 1860’s as an ideal time to create a timeline, thus resulting in the emergence of events I never knew happened in that time period.

What Timemapper does better than just a regular time line is that it puts a visualization of the event into the viewer’s head. Picturing time through just words on paper is a very difficult task. As Grafton points out on page 10, “…we typically see them as only distillations of complex historical narratives and ideas.” But, through an interactive timeline with pictures, we are able to comprehend events at a faster rate than if we were just looking at words on paper. For example, we can look deeper into an issue such as the publishing of Twenty Thousand Leagues Under The Sea while at the same time; see the impact of Alice in Wonderland in the 1860’s society. Timemapper helps give the viewer a short summary of the event and put a picture into that viewer’s head.

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Timemapper summarizing Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea

In his essay, Grafton also talks about Priestley’s invention, the Chart of Biography. “Among the most important events of this period was the publication in 1765 of the Chart of Biography…” (Grafton, p. 19). This chart, revolutionary for its time, revealed the dates of birth and death of historical figures. In conclusion to this chart, Priestley and other theorists firmly believed that a linear timeline does not in fact help the user comprehend the information. Priestley’s chart was the first of its time and set the benchmark for timelines leading all the way up until today.

1765 version of The Chart of Biography

1765 version of The Chart of Biography


Downfalls of TimeMapper

Throughout my past experiences, I always believed that timelines were very useful in terms of understanding history. For starters a good timeline is aesthically pleasing and they can provide a perspective of important events occurring throughout the world. For example, when I am learning about the Civil War I can take a look at a timeline and see what events are occurring in other areas and see if they are relevant as timelines allow for easy comparisons, patterns to be observed, and interpretations to be made. In the article, Rosenberg and Grafton put a lot of emphasize on lines as the means of representing time. This illustrates how simple but still useful timelines can be. One simple line can give “visions of past and future,” which illustrates the importance of chronology (Rosenberg, Grafton, 11). Chronology is significant in understanding history because events in the past, drive the future. Through studying time, historians can make assessments as to why certain events occurred and what spurred them on. It is important to note that although a timeline may appear as simply a line, the makers of timelines must be given a lot of credit. Timelines can be difficult to create as Rosenberg and Grafton point out, because the events must “be revealed as possessing a structure, an order of meaning, that they do not possess as mere sequence” (11). It is not enough to place events together, they should have a deeper meaning that can be analyzed.

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Although I am a huge proponent of timelines, I do not find the TimeMapper that we made in this class very helpful. The timeline is very squished together which makes it difficult to search for connections among the events. Additionally, events related to history, sports, english, and miscellaneous events are all put together on the timeline. It would have been more helpful if we split up the events by category in order to make the events easier to analyze. The way I went about analyzing the connections and relevance among the events was by clicking each one and reading through the description given. By doing so, I was able to find some interesting connections. This timeline made it possible for me to discover that in the 1860’s the Suez Canal opened, the first bicycle was invented, the Pony Express was founded, and the first continental railroad was constructed. All of these four events are related to traveling and communication, which makes me wonder if there is a reason as to why they were invented around the same time, and if the makings of one or two inspired the others to be created. I would not be able to dig deeper into this connection if this timeline did not help me notice that they all began in the same period of time.

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One aspect of the TimeMapper that I did think was useful was the map. The map had blue ticks of where each event took place, and by scrolling over the blue ticks, you could see which event occurred there. For example, through the map I can find out that the First Transcontinental Railroad Construction occurred in North America. I could then continue clicking through the blue ticks on North America to discover other important events that happened in the 1860’s. I think that it is important to not only analyze events by times, but also by location too.

Since James Merrill Linn only discuses events that are specifically related to hScreen Shot 2014-10-05 at 7.32.42 PMim, and not in the world around him this timeline serves as a useful tool to enlighten us of the global issues and accomplishments of Linn’s time. For example, through this timeline I was able to discover that in 1861 the Fall of Fort Sumter was the battle that began the Civil War. This is important because it gives background to Linn’s experiences during the Civil War, and we can literally see where his diary entries fit in. There are other events that are specifically relevant to Linn and the Civil War such as the secession of the Southern States. Through this timeline I learned of important events that occurred both prior and during the war that Linn failed to discuss or mention in his diary entries.