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Maps & Timelines: Half Project Update, Half Review

Maps & Timelines: Half Project Update, Half Review

This post, as the rather functional title implies, is partly an update on a current works-in-progress, but really more a discussion of some of the tools I have been using, particularly the Storymap and Timeline from Northwestern University’s Knight Lab. It is working well for my current projects, and I would like to try it out in a class. It has enough out of the box functionality that students could use it with little training, its use of Google Drive tools lends itself to group projects, and the code is open source, so that more advanced students can tinker, tweak, and customize it.

What I love most about it, though, is that it does not seem to be designed with students or academics as its main audience. Especially in the case of the timeline, these are story telling tools aimed at newspapers and other mainstream sources bringing information to the general public. This made it an ideal candidate for a website I am building for the Boston Middle Passage Port Marker Ceremony this August. The Port Marker Ceremony is part of an international grassroots project to place markers at every Middle Passage port site as a way of making the history of chattel slavery more visible and accessible to the public. Boston will be the first New England site to have both a marker and a ceremony, raising awareness of the role of the slave trade and enslaved labor in the founding of Massachusetts Bay Colony; in the economic, legal, and social development of the region and nation; as well as how this story of seventeenth and eighteenth-century Boston connects to a global history that carries into the present day. The goal of the site is to both advertise the event and serve as a resource afterwards. The site itself is under construction, but in the meantime, I wanted to share some of the features being built.


I found this tool because I loved the timeline WBUR created for the Whitey Bulger trial. I especially liked how the title page could come from anywhere within the chronology, and I loved that you could browse ahead of your current entry with the overview at the bottom of the page. It works from a Google spreadsheet, and as long as you do not change the top two rows, you can add a date anywhere in the spreadsheet and it will appear in the correct order. Publishing the spreadsheet results in a nice little embed code, which works well on Wordpress (there's even a plugin), less so on Squarespace. In Squarespace, I tried the iframe embed code, inline code, adding script to the header, and nothing. Click here to see the current version of the timeline.

Click here to see the current version of the timeline. 


Because of my infatuation with the timeline, I browsed through other digital tools and came across the StoryMap JS. The final version of the site will eventually have multiple maps, but the first one I wanted to build was based on Boston locations already featured the National Park Services walking tours (which already has a wonderful app).

Click here to see the current version of the map.

This tool fit many of the requirements I had for this first map. Given that I am also partly working on research and content for the site, on other committees related to the event, have other research projects not related to this event, am on the job market, and think that sleep is a necessary and wonderful part of each day, I did not code this from the ground up or spend a lot of time experimenting the layout.

Read on for a comparison of these tools with Omkea/Neatline and Google Maps, etc . . . .


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