Timelines organize data over time

The calendar is the most important way to organize over time. It is interesting to discover how many ancient cultures had developed calendars. Some even developed and used two separate calendars, including one for religious or ritual purposes. Consider how a calendar organizes time to help us grasp when things happened or will happen. Instead, we have months for a larger period, then weeks and days.

We take calendars for grated and don’t recognize how helpful this is. Imagine that months wern’t organized into weeks and days. You Sociology class might meet on October 1,3,5,8,11,14,…  It would be even worse if we used days of the year. 274, 276, 278, 280 …

Timelines are a visual way of picturing information over time

The most simple timeline would be a list of events from the earliest to the most recent. In this example, you see a possible way of visualizing preparation time for a term paper.  Business projects sometime use timelines. A simple timeline for preparing a term paper including research and drafts.

Create a Personal Timeline

This same sort of timeline can be used to visualize a persons life. It is interesting to divide your own life into sections. Don’t just use different levels of education. Those are true of nearly everyone. Try finding 3-5 main turning points in your life. Then, based on the changes in your life, find a creative way to say who you were then. Here is my personal timeline – It is organied by time but I left out the actual years. I have used the images I had of myself at different stages of my life.

A Personal Timeline showing self images from different times in my life.

Create a biographical timeline for a person you are studying.

It can also be helpful when studying the life of another person. Here, I did a timeline of Barack Obama. It seemed to me that where he lived at various time probably involved major periods of his life.

Most  “Timelines” on the Internet are actually simple vertical lists of important dates. Note that the timeline above is drawn to scale. Instead of just knowing that, as a child, Obama moved to Indonesia with his mother and Indonesian stepfather, and then returned to Hawaii, you get a clear image of the amount of time he spent in each place.

Timeline of Barack Obama's lifeA complex timeline on a single topic

Here is a complex timeline created by Michael Haggstrom: When describing pregnancy, it makes sense to divide the timeline into nine months.  This is both informative and interesting to study. I like his use of color, especially the difference between clear separation as between preterm, term, and post term. Elsewhere, his boundaries are sometimes are fuzzy because it isn’t always clear.

The Prenatal Development Timeline

The timeline shows the nine months of prenatal development

Sometimes you need an Expanding Timeline

Next is a Geologic Timeline.  It covers about five million years. There is little detail in the early part.  This problem is solved by expanding the last section,(shown with asterisks) and then expanding the last section of that chart, getting more detail where needed in the most recent time.
Part of one of three showing geogogic timeline in greater detailNotice the two red asterisks in the last section. This is expanded in the next two sections.

Part two of three for geologic timeline.

Part two of three for geologic timeline

Now there are astersks for Cenozoic time. This is explanded further in the third timeline.
The third part of the Geologic Timeline

I consider the idea of expanding twice to be an elegant solution to keeping the chart to scale while continuing to show detail as needed.

What is a multiple timeline?

A multiple timeline is simply two or more timelines using the same time scale, shown one above the other for comparison.  A muliple timeline can lead to an ourstanding research paper. You might show a history of science (briefly) in the past 50 years, and the history of technology.  You might use it to see how basic scientific research affect the development of recent technology.

You could compare major political events in the world to literature or psychology or art. You might show  timelines in five different fields looking for relationships.There are examples of such timelines below.

Other outstanding timelines you might want to study

For a well-done Timeline on the History of Evolutionary Thinking, Look at  Jill Bailey’s book, Genetics and Evolution. pages 12-15. This multiple timeline shows the relationships between five disciplines: Paleontology, Evolution of Life, Genetics and Heredity, Molecular Biology, and Genetic Engineering. It covers the time period from 500 BC with the first known discovery of fossils to 1993 to the beginning of the Human Genome Project, Gene Therapy, and related discoveries. This book contains many good examples of different kinds visuals used to organize and display  information.

For an amazing Timeline of Statistics see  The History of Statistical Graphics . Check out the large gray rectangle. It is an amazing Timeline. Notice how the centuries are marked clearly, but near the bottom, you will find each century divided into decades. Read the introduction. It explains two ways to move the timeline as well as information you get when you click on individual events. This Time line is actually titled, Milestones in the History of Cartography, Statistical Graphs and Data Visualization. It was created by Michael Friendly and Daniel Denis. This is another multiple timeline.

From the Big Bang to Today: This timeline includes astronomy, chemistry, physics, and evolution. Like the geology timeline above, it starts with large time periods, the the periods are expanded as we get closer to current time.  It would really be much better  seen on a large screen. 

Video version of the timeline is found at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fmy7QdmxYuI

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