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9.5 Creating a Digital Timeline

Another easy way to use digital technologies to enhance your research is to build a digital timeline around a particular historical period or literary work. You’ve probably drawn a timeline in a class before, but digital timelines allow you to include much richer information than you typically can when working on paper. As with a thematic research collection, gathering information about your research and organizing it chronologically will help you understand it more deeply and spot relationships between events you might not have spotted otherwise. There are other uses for timelines in literature classes. In his detailed “Build Your Own Interactive Timeline” article (,Brian Croxall, “Build Your Own Interactive Timeline,” Brian Croxall argues that building timelines can help students untangle the complex chronology of novels such as Kurt Vonnegut’s Slaughterhouse-Five or Toni Morrison’s Jazz (and of short stories such as William Faulkner’s “A Rose for Emily,” which you can read at

Fortunately there are free tools available online for building basic interactive timelines. Dipity ( allows users to enter new events through a very simple interface. Users can even integrate content from a range of other web services such as YouTube and Flickr, which would allow you to include images and videos related to your research into your timeline. Dipity’s one major limitation for some literature classrooms is that it cannot yet accept events dated before 100 AD/CE. If you’re working with classical sources—Greek tragedy, for instance—then Dipity may not be your best choice. For a greater challenge but more flexibility, you might try Brian Croxall’s previously mentioned “Timeline Tutorial” ( Croxall walks users through building timelines using MIT’s SIMILE Project ( As he notes, there’s a greater learning curve with SIMILE, but users have far more control over the timelines it produces.

Timelines can even be used to build arguments about the relationships among historical events and/or events in a literary work. To return briefly to Faulkner’s “A Rose for Emily,” you could construct a timeline of events related to the Civil War, Reconstruction, and other events of the novel. Within those events, you could make claims and cite evidence explaining to your readers precisely how those events help us understand the story’s protagonist, Emily Grierson. When you correlate the details the story tells us about Emily with those historical events, what new understanding(s) of Emily emerge?