Digital History: A Timeline of the Rise and Fall of State Shinto

Our first project in this class was editing a Wikipedia article. It was a good experience, illuminating the process of doing history and how Wikipeda works. As another exercise in using digital media for historical purposes, we’ve now put together timelines using the Google tool TimelineJS.

Unfortunately free WordPress sites can’t embed these timelines right now, but you can see it by copy-pasting this link (I hope): http://cdn.knightlab.com/libs/timeline/latest/embed/index.html?source=0Aj5lmmGExH0jdDhyZHAzdzJ6NmczamVuRmUyRGZHZEE&font=Bevan-PotanoSans&maptype=toner&lang=en&height=650

Long story short, this project was fun to create, but I’m not convinced it’s a deeply useful product to have created. I’ll be really interested to hear what you guys think – Did you get anything out of it, or is it just confusing if you’re not already familiar with the material? (It also really illustrates that even though technology has amazing possibilities, not everyone can view everything.)

More rambling:

As per instructor’s suggestion, I adapted a research paper on State Shinto and the Emperor in Japan. Because of the timeline structure, Dr. Iron Man* was really pushing for some kind of story to hold the events together, and of course we had to have a thesis statement. We had to use primary sources (mainly in the form of quotes), and integrate pictures and video.

It was harder than I thought to tell a story without actually using narrative, and honestly I feel like I was cutting a lot of the substance out of the paper and replacing it with pictures that may or may not be illuminating. I’d rather just add pictures, a traditional timeline, and subject headings or other clarifying formatting to the paper itself. Granted, I had some challenges because my topic stretches back in time, and I don’t have exact dates for some of the events even in the late 1800s because I’m talking about processes. Obviously the kind of information you’re presenting has to factor into the type of presentation you choose; a timeline won’t be the best option for many projects.

I’m also not crazy about the TimelineJS structure – instead of putting your presentation together like a Powerpoint or Prezi with a what-you-see-is-what-you-get system, you have to put all of your information into a spreadsheet and hope it turns out the way you want. Not to mention the “can’t embed in WordPress” issues.

The usual citation-heavy style of a history paper won’t work here, citing much at all seems forced unless you can add a link or the name of a speech – detailed publication information and all the usual info just looks out of place and weighs it down. I wish there was some kind of “mouse over this icon to see citation info for this slide” function available. (Maybe there is and I couldn’t find it.) Because of the structure, I actually ended up reducing the paper to easily demonstrable facts that I don’t think really needed citing, which may be a reason not to bother with a cite feature, but I’m not sure that’s an argument in favor of doing timelines either.

Still, it was a fun experience, and I do like putting together projects like this more than sitting down and banging out papers. A timeline that could really be explored rather than just read (with nonlinear connections) might be a great learning tool — my favorite museum, the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute, is actually a lifesize timeline that visitors walk through.

Any thoughts?


*All my professors correspond to characters from Avengers.


3 thoughts on “Digital History: A Timeline of the Rise and Fall of State Shinto

  1. I’ve tried using that before and gotten frustrated for the same reasons. I think it’s neat and possibly helpful as a visual aid in a presentation, but it’s not really helpful to me as a standalone project. I like putting together timelines too, though. It helps me with context more than a paper by itself would.


    1. We’re presenting them in class next week, so I’m really wondering why we wouldn’t just do a Powerpoint or Prezi in this situation. (I did cut out a lot of chatter because I knew I’d be presenting it verbally and could throw in fun facts/connections/examples that way, but it wouldn’t have fit in the timeliness anyway … It’s stuff from the paper, and to convey it, I really need parentheticals and transitions.)

      So I guess I’m back to “depends on the project.” The timelines would have an advantage if it was a topic that could be conveyed in the timeline format without chatter, because it’s more readily usable and interactive than a Powerpoint posted on a website would be.



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