In preparation for class this week, we looked at several timelines, including the MET’s Heilbrunn timeline and the BBC’s British History timeline. I’d like to talk about these two resources as I think they are good examples of how digital timelines can be quite robust in terms of the information they offer their users. As it says on the Heilbrunn’s homepage, the timeline is made up of essays and works of art with chronologies. The Heilbrunn timeline does more than plot works of art in time, it connects users with scholarly information and offers multiple points of entry depending on how one likes to search or browse. Since the timeline is connected to the MET’s online catalog, users can also search the timeline using keywords so that similar images/objects can be found outside (or within) the same time period/region as the image/item they are investigating. The BBC’s British History Timeline is similar in that it links nodes on the timeline to BBC articles, but it lacks the visual element of the MET’s timeline (which, in all fairness, makes sense given that the MET is an arts institution and the BBC is not). An element that I found particularly well-done within the BBC timeline is its ‘take a journey’ feature, which asks users to select a theme (slavey, women’s rights, technology and kings/queens) as a way to narrow down the kinds of information they encounter. I could see this type of organizational approach being particularly useful for large quantities of information in timeline form.
We looked at two different timeline tools in this unit, Timeline JS and Time Mapper. After working with Timeline JS, I actually wish that I had used Time Mapper as I think it would have been more interesting, and many projects I have envisioned (and even talked about in previous blog posts) would likely work with a tool like Time Mapper. The main difference between Timeline JS and Time Mapper is that Time Mapper I had really wanted to link out to the archival exhibition page of a show that White’s work had been in, but hyperlinks in the google sheets page seem not to work. I had a pretty hard time getting some images to link because of the way the source websites had them formatted – this was intensely frustrating. I think a pronounced flaw of Timeline JS is the inability to link images that aren’t already on the web. In class we discussed how one might go about uploading images to the web and thus be able to use them with Timeline JS, but that extra step feels like it could be quite frustrating, especially if a scholar was working with a large amount of material that was not available in digital format elsewhere on the internet.
I think that timelines are great visual tools for most any discipline, but I am still note sure they qualify as digital art history. I view them as wonderful supplements to written text that make information easy to digest and enjoyable to interact with, but I’m not sure they enable us to ask new questions about the works we study. That being said, I would love for someone in the comments to disagree with me and help me see timelines in a new way.
Here’s my timeline of the life of American Photographer Minor White. In retrospect, I wish I had used Time Mapper as I think the geographic element of that tool is what enables a timeline to be more dynamic and interesting. Given that White’s work was photographic (aka depicting real places) I think having his works mapped out across the continental U.S. would have been a more exciting way to think about his work and career.
[I would like to thank and acknowledge the Minor White Archive at Princeton University Art Museum, the source for most of my information for this timeline]: