Timelines: History and Chronology in Spacial Terms

The somewhat young medium of displaying history, the timeline, reinvented not only how people chronologically present history, but also the way in which they think about history. According to Grafton, “The timeline offered a new way of visualizing history, And it fundamentally changed the way that history was spoken of as well”  (20). The chronological, linear representation of events is a fairly new tool as it was popularized in the eighteenth century. However, its use is so widespread now that many do not think of other ways to represent history.

In an attempt to make even more sense of the Payne and Froehlich Travel Journals, we used several timelines to both give context and display the details of their journey. As a class, we used TimeMapper to create a timeline of events from the 1740s, when Payne and Froehlich were writing. Our goal was to provide context for the journal entries. Below is an image from this timeline, we aimed t1740s TimeMapper Battle of Lauffeido focus our events to the US colonies at the time. This would allow us to reach a greater understanding of the journal entries by discerning their cultural context. The TimeMapper allows users to understand the story of the US colonies and the world during the 1740s. The chronology of events is important, as early events impact later ones. This timeline could have also been somewhat misleading, however, as there is a chance that we included events that were not relevant to the Moravians we were studying. If irrelevant occasions are included and emphasized as heavily as highly influential events, it is possible that we would gain false understandings about the material.

While TimeMapper allowed us to see the broader context for the journals, the TimeGlider timeline allowed us to show the chronology of Payne and Froehlich’s travels. We aimed to note the important events mentioned in their journals; showing where they went, who they met, where they stayed, and other details.  Being able to decipher what events helped to move their journey along and putting them on a timeline gave us the opportunity to view their story in a different way. As Grafton referenced W.J.T. Mitchell, “The fact is that spatial form is the perceptual basis of our notion of time, we literally cannot ‘tell time’ without the mediation of space” (13). This emphasizes the importance of spacial relations to telling time and ultimately understanding stories. TimeGlider allowed us to see the spacial reTimeGlider Payne:Froehlich Travel Diarylations between specific events that occurred day-to-day for these men. To the right, is an example of my contribution to the timelines. From this TimeGlider timelines, we are able to see the interactions that the men had with different justices on different days. After combining all of the events onto one timeline, we will be able to see the travelers’ complete story.

In both TimeMapper and TimeGlider, the timeline creator is able to insert images, graphics, and texts that further elaborate on each point. This enables even more details to be provided for events. These digital additions to timelines allow users to gain deeper knowledge about the events.

Grafton points out that timelines as they are not entirely helpful as, “historical narrative is not linear” (20). He mentions the complex ways in which events interact and influence one another. This is an extremely valid point to make when speaking about the traditional timeline. However, the use of digital humanities and tools such as TimeMapper and TimeGlider, somewhat addresses this issue. As previously mentioned, these tools allow for more detail and therefore creates a more coherent and accurate narrative. The tools also allow the timelines to be concise and neat, while still containing copious amounts of information.

Creating timelines for both the travel journals themselves and the historical context of the journals helped to make sense of Payne and Froehlich’s journey. Their story can now more clearly be interpreted not only by its chronology, but also by the details of the events and the spacial representation of time.