As Grafton said “graphic representation is among our most important tools for organizing information.” (Grafton, p. 10), time maps and timelines are quite helpful for the study of history. These tools for organizing historical events match “our mental furniture” (Grafton, p. 10) which shows our favor on visual forms. Chronology organizes information in a pattern. It is always with time and events in order or images with time on it.
As technology developed, we now have computers with more advanced chronological tools. Timemapper, for example, turns time and location in the information into visual images. Instead of using chart, we put events on a straight line in time order, which can better show more specific time sequence and time distance between each other. We can also trace the event to the map, by which we can find the space distance between different events. By comparing events happened in different time and space, we can find out more things that have not mentioned in the texts—the hidden relationship of different events. By finding similarities of time and space and events, which can be easily seen on Timemapper, we can connect different events and tell a story—an event can be the cause of the next event or the effect of an earlier event.
“The timeline offered a new way of visualizing history” (Grafton , p. 20), Timeglider gives a good example for this. Timeglider compacts pages of information into short titles in order which would be more clear and easier to understand. It is interesting that it organizes titles into “stairs” in order. In Payne’s Travel Journal, for example, we can figure out the route Payne and his partners traveled. We can also figure out the time they spend on different place simplely by seeing different distance between different titles. Titles that are close to the same vertical line show that Payne and his partners arrived in one place and quickly moved to another. Knowing this can help us find out the place where they spent more time staying in and that place would probably be an important place in which important events happened.
Without chronology, history is just a million different little stories thrown together. According to Grafton, “While history dealt in stories, chronology dealt in facts.” (Grafton, 10) Chronology adds order and reliability to history. The chronology of events has shown Christians, for example, “when to celebrate Easter” or when other important events may occur (Grafton, 11). It is also useful for combining and comparing more than one “line” of events. For example, we can compare the history of a certain place in the world to another place and see which events happened at the same time and create an even broader history of events.
Modern timelines can show more than just the chronology of events. We can represent history not only via the chronology, but also via the importance and the geography of the events. 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, 17)
TimeMapper “clarified” historical events by adding a geographic aspect to each event. Along with ordering the events in chronological order, it also adds a pin onto the map for each event. Timeglider on the other hand, adds the importance aspect to each event. Along with ordering the events, you can adjust the size of the text of each event to signify the importance or relevance of each event depending on the subject of the timeline and ultimately the judgment of the creator.
Although each mode of representation offers a different “clarification” of the historical events, each one may also obscure parts of it. Sometimes it may look like two events occurred in the same location on the map in TimeMapper when in fact they occur in two different places just very close together. In Timeglider, events may be deemed unimportant when they should have been more important. These tools rely on the creator’s judgment and willingness to do deeper research before creating the timeline.
The point is, a line does not just represent the chronology of events. It is indeed a visualization of events over time. Therefore, it does not even just tell us a story; it shows us a story.