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Joseph Priestley's A New Chart of History, 1765. A New Chart of History color.jpg
Joseph Priestley's A New Chart of History, 1765.
The bronze timeline "Fifteen meters of History" with background information board, Orebro, Sweden. Tidslinje 1.JPG
The bronze timeline "Fifteen meters of History" with background information board, Örebro, Sweden.

A timeline is a display of a list of events in chronological order. [1] It is typically a graphic design showing a long bar labelled with dates paralleling it, and usually contemporaneous events.


Timelines can use any suitable scale representing time, suiting the subject and data; many use a linear scale, in which a unit of distance is equal to a set amount of time. This timescale is dependent on the events in the timeline. A timeline of evolution can be over millions of years, whereas a timeline for the day of the September 11 attacks can take place over minutes, and that of an explosion over milliseconds. [2] While many timelines use a linear timescale—especially where very large or small timespans are relevant -- logarithmic timelines entail a logarithmic scale of time; some "hurry up and wait" chronologies are depicted with zoom lens metaphors.

More usually, "timeline" refers merely to a data set which could be displayed as described above. For example, this meaning is used in the titles of many Wikipedia articles starting "Timeline of ..."


Time and space (particularly the line) are intertwined concepts in human thought. The line is ubiquitous in clocks in the form of a circle, time is spoken of in terms of length, intervals, a before and an after. [3] The idea of orderly, segmented time is also represented in almanacs, calendars, charts, graphs, genealogical and evolutionary trees, where the line is central. [4]

Originally, chronological events were arranged in a mostly textual form. This took form in annals, like king lists. Alongside them, the table was used like in the Greek tables of Olympiads and Roman lists of consuls and triumphs. [5] Annals had little narrative and noted what happened to people, making no distinction between natural and human actions. [6]

In Europe, from the 4th century, the dominant chronological notation was the table. This can be partially credited to Eusebius, who laid out the relations between Jewish, pagan, and Christian histories in parallel columns, culminating in the Roman Empire, according to the Christian view when Christ was born to spread salvation as far as possible. His work was widely copied and was among the first printed books. This served the idea of Christian world history and providential time. The table is easy to produce, append, and read with indices, so it also fit the Renaissance scholars' absorption of a wide variety of sources with its focus on commonalities. These uses made the table with years in one column and places of events (kingdoms) on the top the dominant visual structure of time. [7]

By the 17th century, historians had started to claim that chronology and geography were the two sources of precise information which bring order to the chaos of history.[ citation needed ][ dubious ] In geography, Renaissance mapmakers updated Ptolemy's maps and the map became a symbol of the power of monarchs, and knowledge. Likewise, the idea that a singular chronology of world history from contemporary sources is possible affected historians. The want for precision in chronology gave rise to adding historical eclipses to tables, like in the case of Gerardus Mercator.[ citation needed ] Various graphical experiments emerged, from fitting the whole of history on a calendar year to series of historical drawings, in the hopes of making a metaphorical map of time. [8] Developments in printing and engraving that made practical larger and more detailed book illustrations allowed these changes, but in the 17th century, the table with some modifications continued to dominate. [9]

The modern timeline emerged in Joseph Priestley's A Chart of Biography , published in 1765. [10] It presented dates simply and provided an analogue for the concept of historical progress that was becoming popular in the 18th century. However, as Priestley recognized, history is not totally linear. The table has the advantage in that it can present many of these intersections and branching paths. For Priestley, its main use was a "mechanical help to the knowledge of history", not as an image of history. Regardless, the timeline had become very popular during the 18th and 19th centuries. Positivism emerged in the 19th century and the development of chronophotography and tree ring analysis made visible time taking place at various speeds. This encouraged people to think that events might be truly objectively recorded. [11]

However, in some cases, filling in a timeline with more data only pushed it towards impracticality. Jacques Barbeu-Duborg's 1753 Chronologie Universelle was mounted on a 54-feet-long scroll. Charles Joseph Minard's 1869 thematic map of casualties of the French army in its Russian campaign put much less focus on the one-directional line. Charles Renouvier's 1876 Uchronie, a branching map of the history of Europe, depicted both the actual course of history and counterfactual paths. At the end of the 19th century, Henri Bergson declared the metaphor of the timeline to be deceiving in Time and Free Will . [12] The question of big history and deep time engendered estranging forms of the timeline, like in Olaf Stapledon's 1930 work Last and First Men where timelines are drawn on scales from the historical to the cosmological. Similar techniques are used by the Long Now Foundation, and the difficulties of chronological representation have been presented by visual artists including Francis Picabia, On Kawara, J. J. Grandville, and Saul Steinberg. [13]


There are different types of timelines:

There are many methods to visualize timelines. Historically, timelines were static images and were generally drawn or printed on paper. Timelines relied heavily on graphic design, and the ability of the artist to visualize the data.


Timelines are often used in education [14] to help students and researchers with understanding the order or chronology of historical events and trends for a subject. To show time on a specific scale on an axis, a timeline can visualize time lapses between events, durations (such as lifetimes or wars), and the simultaneity or the overlap of spans and events.

In historical studies

Timelines are particularly useful for studying history, as they convey a sense of change over time. Wars and social movements are often shown as timelines. Timelines are also useful for biographies. Examples include:

In natural sciences

Timelines are also used in the natural world and sciences, such as in astronomy, biology, and geology:

In project management

Another type of timeline is used for project management. Timelines help team members know what milestones need to be achieved and under what time schedule. An example is establishing a project timeline in the implementation phase of the life cycle of a computer system.


Timelines (no longer constrained by previous space and functional limitations) are now digital and interactive, generally created with computer software. Microsoft Encarta encyclopedia provided one of the earliest multimedia timelines intended for students and the general public. Hyperhistory [15] and ChronoZoom are other examples of interactive timeline software.

See also

Related Research Articles

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Chronology</span> Science of arranging events in order of occurrence

Chronology is the science of arranging events in their order of occurrence in time. Consider, for example, the use of a timeline or sequence of events. It is also "the determination of the actual temporal sequence of past events".

A logarithmic timeline is a timeline laid out according to a logarithmic scale. This necessarily implies a zero point and an infinity point, neither of which can be displayed. The most natural zero point is the Big Bang, looking forward, but the most common is the ever-changing present, looking backward.

A diagram is a symbolic representation of information using visualization techniques. Diagrams have been used since prehistoric times on walls of caves, but became more prevalent during the Enlightenment. Sometimes, the technique uses a three-dimensional visualization which is then projected onto a two-dimensional surface. The word graph is sometimes used as a synonym for diagram.

Animated mapping is the application of animation, either a computer or video, to add a temporal component to a map displaying change in some dimension. Most commonly the change is shown over time, generally at a greatly changed scale. An example would be the animation produced after the 2004 tsunami showing how the waves spread across the Indian Ocean.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Anthony Grafton</span> American historian (born 1950)

Anthony Thomas Grafton is an American historian of early modern Europe and the Henry Putnam University Professor of History at Princeton University, where he is also the Director the Program in European Cultural Studies. He is also a corresponding fellow of the British Academy and a recipient of the Balzan Prize. From January 2011 to January 2012, he served as the President of the American Historical Association. From 2006 to 2020, Grafton was co-executive editor of the Journal of the History of Ideas.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">William Playfair</span> British polymath (1759–1823)

William Playfair, a Scottish engineer and political economist, served as a secret agent on behalf of Great Britain during its war with France. The founder of graphical methods of statistics, Playfair invented several types of diagrams: in 1786 the line, area and bar chart of economic data, and in 1801 the pie chart and circle graph, used to show part-whole relations. As a secret agent, Playfair reported on the French Revolution and organized a clandestine counterfeiting operation in 1793 to collapse the French currency.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Timeline of Russian history</span> Timeline of notable events in the history of Russia and its predecessor states

This is a timeline of Russian history, comprising important legal and territorial changes and political events in Russia and its predecessor states. To read about the background to these events, see History of Russia. See also the list of leaders of Russia.

<i>Annales Alamannici</i>

The Annales Alamannici provide one of the earliest records of Medieval Europe available. The core text of the Annales Alamannici covers the years 709 through to 799. Spread over several Swabian monasteries, the annals were continued independently in several places, in the Reichenau Abbey up to 939, in Abbey of Saint Gall up to 926. The St. Gallen version was continued from 927 to 1059 as the Annales Sangallenses maiores. They depict a limited number of events, in short prose, but their value to scholars is in their medieval representational style.

The following outline is provided as an overview of and topical guide to history:

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Data and information visualization</span> Visual representation of data

Data and information visualization is the practice of designing and creating easy-to-communicate and easy-to-understand graphic or visual representations of a large amount of complex quantitative and qualitative data and information with the help of static, dynamic or interactive visual items. Typically based on data and information collected from a certain domain of expertise, these visualizations are intended for a broader audience to help them visually explore and discover, quickly understand, interpret and gain important insights into otherwise difficult-to-identify structures, relationships, correlations, local and global patterns, trends, variations, constancy, clusters, outliers and unusual groupings within data. When intended for the general public to convey a concise version of known, specific information in a clear and engaging manner, it is typically called information graphics.

This is the timeline of the Universe from Big Bang to Heat Death scenario. The different eras of the universe are shown. The heat death will occur in around 1.7×10106 years, if protons decay.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Cosmic Calendar</span> Method to visualize the chronology of the universe

The Cosmic Calendar is a method to visualize the chronology of the universe, scaling its currently understood age of 13.8 billion years to a single year in order to help intuit it for pedagogical purposes in science education or popular science.

This is a timeline of Japanese history, comprising important legal, territorial and cultural changes and political events in Japan and its predecessor states. To read about the background to these events, see History of Japan.

Astronomical chronology, or astronomical dating, is a technical method of dating events or artifacts that are associated with astronomical phenomena. Written records of historical events that include descriptions of astronomical phenomena have done much to clarify the chronology of the Ancient Near East; works of art which depict the configuration of the stars and planets and buildings which are oriented to the rising and setting of celestial bodies at a particular time have all been dated through astronomical calculations.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Michael Friendly</span>

Michael Louis Friendly is an American-Canadian psychologist, Professor of Psychology at York University in Ontario, Canada, and director of its Statistical Consulting Service, especially known for his contributions to graphical methods for categorical and multivariate data, and on the history of data and information visualisation.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Jacques Barbeu-Dubourg</span> French physician, botanist, writer, translator and publisher

Jacques Barbeu-Dubourg was a French physician, botanist, writer, translator and publisher known for translating Benjamin Franklin's work into French and for inventing a gentlemen's umbrella fitted with a lightning conductor. He designed a method of histographic visualizations which he called the Carte chronographique.

ChronoZoom is a free open source project that visualizes time on the broadest possible scale from the Big Bang to the present day. Conceived by Walter Alvarez and Roland Saekow and developed by the department of Earth and Planetary Science at the University of California, Berkeley in collaboration with Microsoft Research and Moscow State University, Alvarez unveiled the first ChronoZoom prototype at UC Berkeley's 2010 Faculty Research Lecture. Although that demo is no longer available to the public online, a second version rewritten in HTML5 is now available and open source. ChronoZoom was inspired by the study of Big History, and it approaches the documentation and visualization of time and history in the same way that Google Earth deals with geography. ChronoZoom allows users to see the true scale of time over cosmic, geologic, biological and social periods.

The following is a timeline of the history of the city of Florence, Tuscany, Italy.


  1. Grafton, Anthony; Rosenberg, Daniel (2010), Cartographies of Time: A History of the Timeline, Princeton Architectural Press, p. 272, ISBN   978-1-56898-763-7
  2. plarson (September 1, 2016). "Anomaly Updates". SpaceX. Archived from the original on February 16, 2017. Retrieved July 16, 2017.
  3. Rosenberg, Daniel; Grafton, Anthony. Cartographies of Time. New York City: Princeton Architectural Press. p. 13.
  4. Rosenberg, Daniel; Grafton, Anthony. Cartographies of Time. New York City: Princeton Architectural Press. p. 14.
  5. Rosenberg, Daniel; Grafton, Anthony. Cartographies of Time. New York City: Princeton Architectural Press. pp. 10–11, 15.
  6. Rosenberg, Daniel; Grafton, Anthony. Cartographies of Time. New York City: Princeton Architectural Press. p. 12.
  7. Rosenberg, Daniel; Grafton, Anthony. Cartographies of Time. New York City: Princeton Architectural Press. pp. 15–16.
  8. Rosenberg, Daniel; Grafton, Anthony. Cartographies of Time. New York City: Princeton Architectural Press. pp. 17–18.
  9. Rosenberg, Daniel; Grafton, Anthony. Cartographies of Time. New York City: Princeton Architectural Press. p. 19.
  10. Rosenberg, Daniel; Grafton, Anthony. Cartographies of Time. New York City: Princeton Architectural Press. pp. 19–20.
  11. Rosenberg, Daniel; Grafton, Anthony. Cartographies of Time. New York City: Princeton Architectural Press. pp. 20–21.
  12. Rosenberg, Daniel; Grafton, Anthony. Cartographies of Time. New York City: Princeton Architectural Press. pp. 22–23.
  13. Rosenberg, Daniel; Grafton, Anthony. Cartographies of Time. New York City: Princeton Architectural Press. p. 23.
  14. DeCoito, Isha; Vacca, Stefano (October 30, 2020). "The Case for Digital Timelines in Teaching and Teacher Education". International Journal of e-Learning & Distance Education / Revue internationale du e-learning et la formation à distance. 35 (1). ISSN   1916-6818. Archived from the original on November 24, 2022. Retrieved March 11, 2022.
  15. "World History : HyperHistory". www.hyperhistory.com. Archived from the original on March 11, 2022. Retrieved March 11, 2022.