Do you have an assignment to make a timeline? Start by picking a topic to study, then conduct research to find out more about important dates that occurred during the time period you want to examine. Take it a step further by creating an interesting visual representation of the chronology you laid out. Read on for more information on how to make a timeline.
Part One of Three:
Deciding What the Timeline Will Include Edit
Give your timeline a title. What subject is inspiring your timeline project? Decide what general topic you want to illustrate in timeline format. You can focus on a single lifetime or an entire social movement, the history of a neighborhood or the history of a presidency. A timeline can even map out the seemingly simple life of a tree, or the proceedings of one memorable season. Here are some sample titles for inspiration:
- The Life and Times of Nelson Mandela
- Beverly Hills, 90210: A Recent History
- JD Salinger’s Storied Career
- Dragons, Then and Now
- California’s Ancient Redwoods
- NASA, to the Moon and Beyond
- The Justin Timberlake Story
- A Day in the Life of a Praying Mantis
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Make a list of events to include. The events you choose to include on your timeline can take it from a humdrum list of well-known social studies facts to an insightful, inspiring, and even humorous take on the subject at hand. Plan to include significant events, like births and deaths, but mix in some little-known details as well. Include information that’s going to resonate with people. You can include as few or as many events as you’d like.
Here are some examples of the types of events to include:
- Personal events of significance like births, deaths, marriages, divorces, major illnesses, breaks with family, moves abroad, big career moves, and so on.
- Other events that help to craft the story of your subject. For example, if you were creating a timeline of the life of an ancient redwood, you might include the date that settlers moved nearby the tree, the date that the trees around this one were cut down for lumber, the date that a forest fire destroyed the surrounding area, and so on. The picture of the redwood’s life begins to emerge based on these significant events.
- Historical events coinciding with the lifespan of the topic you’re covering. For example, if you were making a timeline of JD Salinger’s career, you might include recognizable events like World War II or the date humans first walked on the moon, so people can reflect on how those events may have affected JD Salinger’s work.
- Little-known intriguing facts that will make your timeline more original. Do research to dig up facts that most people have never read. Look at your subject from a unique angle that other people rarely take.
Decide when it will begin and end. Technically, your timeline could be infinitely long and wide, stretching back to the beginning of time and encompassing every little thing that has happened. On a practical level you’ll have to decide when you want to start the timeline and at what point you want to end it. Choose a manageable number of events to include, too, so your timeline is readable.
A timeline should present what you deem to be the most essential information about your subject, and if you include too much content the important parts will be lost.
- 15-20 events is a good number to include for most timelines.
- You don’t always have to start a timeline with a person’s birth or end it with his or her death. Get creative with your start and end dates.
Aim to present a well-rounded history. Learn as much about your timeline topic as you can, so that your timeline accurately reflects what happened. Remember that history is subjective; for every piece of information you include on your timeline, countless bits of history are left out. You, as the historian, are sculpting the story of your subject. It can never be a complete story, but you can do your best to make it as true, and as interesting, as you possibly can with the information you have at your disposal. Here are some suggestions to keep in mind as you finalize the content of your timeline:
- Don’t forget history’s underdogs. Present a perspective that’s not as famous and mainstream as what you’ll find in a typical history book. Are you covering the history of your town? Think about who has lived there for years but rarely gets mentioned. Are you outlining the evolution of jazz music? There are plenty of musicians who made great contributions but don’t usually make the history books.
- Use a variety of research sources. If you get all your information from one textbook, you aren’t going to have enough information to provide a well-rounded history of your subject. Check out online resources, make calls and interview people, go to the library, read essays on the subject, ready autobiographies, read scientific journals, read old newspaper articles, etc.
- Temper your own assumptions. Maybe you think you’ve already got your subject figured out. You already know the timeline of Columbus’ journey to the United States, for example, because you’ve heard it all before. Look deeper to find out more about what happened in 1492. A routine assignment to present a timeline of a figure you think you already understand is the perfect opportunity to discover something new, and through your own discovery, teach other people, too.
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