Sunday, January 7, 2018

Illustrated historical timelines can now be developed online with eStory!

History resource article by Mary Harrsch © 2017

Years ago I participated in a workshop about the development of effective data graphics. The instructor used Charles Joseph Minard's classic timeline of events that occurred during Napoleon's invasion of Russia in 1812 as his primary example. This historic data graphic not only relayed dates and events but, through the thickness of the line, represented the catastrophic losses in Napoleon's army  suffered in that brutal winter campaign.

Charles Joseph Minard's classic timeline of Napoleon's invasion of and retreat from Russia in 1812.
"From the most ancient images to the contemporary, the line has served as the central figure in the representation of time. The linear metaphor is ubiquitous in everyday visual representations of time—in almanacs, calendars, charts, and graphs of all sorts. Even our everyday speech is filled with talk of time having a "before" and an "after" or being "long" and "short." The timeline is such a familiar part of our mental furniture that it is sometimes hard to remember that we invented it in the first place." - Anthony Grafton and Daniel Rosenberg, Cartographies of Time: A History of the Timeline

I have always found timelines to be excellent tools for providing structure for historical events and the ability to compare both events and technological developments of different cultures over a similar time period. So when Jonathan Pinet contacted me last month and described the new timeline tool he and Jean Benoit Malzac were developing, I became quite interested in their efforts. Jonathan had read some of my posts on "Roman Times" and wondered if I would develop several timelines focused on Roman History for their new timeline website Estory. So I spent several days compiling a list of dates and events for the Gallic Wars then finding images on the web I could use for illustration.

As my timeline was quite detailed, Jean Benoit asked me to break it into three parts to limit each timeline to 15 - 20 events so I did so and the following three timelines are the result. (click on the linked captions to view the timeline)

Gallic Wars Timeline Pt 1: The Helvetii


Gallic Wars Timeline Pt 2: Pirates and Britons
Gallic Wars Timeline Pt 3: Roman victory at Alesia

The eStory tool allows you to use either still images, animated GIFs, or video clips to illustrate each information slide. At present there is no intermediate save function, though,  so I recommend you compile your list of dates, events and the URLs for illustrations using a spreadsheet first then login to eStory and enter your data.  Once you save your timeline you will no longer be able to edit it (at the moment). However, if you wish to make changes or additions after you have published it, Estory has an online chat feature where you can provide information to Jean Benoit and he will make the changes for you.  Hopefully, online editing of an existing timeline will be added soon.

The timeline tool also has features to provide links to recommended movies, books, and related articles to enrich your timeline.  If you provide the titles to the movies and books, Jean Benoit will look them up on Amazon and enter the appropriate links after you publish your timeline. Articles can be linked by providing their URLs.

I have asked Jonathan and Jean Benoit to consider adding the ability to display two timelines, one above the other, so cultures and political developments can be easily compared across the same time period. Hopefully, this feature will make it into the development schedule.

I would also like to see the development of a collaborative environment so group members could work on timelines together. I really enjoyed the history of sailboats timeline developed by Aurélien Ferré but wished I could have added some slides about ship development in the Greco-Roman period between his slides of 5000 BCE and the 9th century CE.

I encourage you to visit eStory and check out some of the interesting timelines that have been created there. Then set up a free account of your own and develop a timeline about a subject that interests you!