Blog Post

Keeping Tabs on Time

Tracking the time span of a 400-page book may seem like a daunting task to most readers, thankfully Bram Stoker’s epistolary style tracks dates for each character interaction. Upon first reading of Dracula there seems to be little to no action and the plot remains stationary while each character explains their actions and theories regarding the Count. As the UWGB Literary Themes class discussed our way through the book a smaller group within the class was responsible for keeping track of important events and the days on which those events take place.

May third marks Jonathan Harker’s arrival at Castle Dracula in the form of a journal entry; Mina Harker’s journal ends the story on November sixth. With the exception of a “note” tacked on at the end, the entire story takes place over a span of only six months. Being able to visualize an entire story in a format such as a digital timeline allows for readers to know exactly when the most important action takes place. Color-coding the actions by assigning a color to a specific character demonstrates exactly who is experiencing (or in this case recording) the plot- driving action.

Viewing this project before reading the book may cause frustration to readers when they start wading through page after page of commentary on daily life. Having access to a condensed visualization of any story is useful to any reader used to contemporary action- driven stories.

In order to create the timeline a spreadsheet is made with columns for date and activity. Classifications are also made to each entry designating it to a specific character, type of action, or anything else important to the book being represented.

Each timeline created can be stretched or condensed based on the time frame for any book. For example, a book occurring over the span of a day would need to track hours or minutes while a several year- long plot may need days or months. Spreading out the data prevents clumping in the final visualization that would hinder the accessibility and usefulness of the tool. Students can also insert additional media or text to specific events should they need to explain an event beyond a simple label.

Though I did not personally help collect data for this project I found the timeline for Dracula to be surprisingly unlike what I expected. Any visual representation of a text is bound to influence how I read something and in this case my understanding of time was very incorrect. What I assumed to take place over a span of a few years (disregarding the end note) took place over only twenty percent of that amount of time. If you plan to read this vampire masterpiece, or even if you don’t, check out the timeline as a helpful reading guide!


1 comment

Rebecca, I'm really glad you wrote about this assignment.  First, I should give a shout out to Brian Croxall, who was the pedagogical/technical inspiration for this project.

I've found the timelines to be tricky, largely because they are so dependent on being paired with the right book. In class, I've essentially created an artificial environment by requiring one to be done for every book, which is why they work well with some books and not so well with others (as we saw with House of Leaves last semester, where the timeline was not very helpful). With Dracula, it was helpful for many reasons, and you do hit on something important here--we could look at this timeline as the start, or base, of a dataset (which it is). When we look at it that way, rather than something that is "done" or "closed" and not open and available for expansion or remix, we can consider what research questions future groups might bring to this project. For example, what if we added geographical information as well, in the form of latitude and longitude points? Would this timeline work better when paired with a map? Why? If so, how can we make that happen while building off the data we already have? Etc.

Also, like you, I'm surprised at how short of a timespan the entirety of the novel takes (that is if we diregard the year of elapsed time in the last chapter). When I looked at the timeline, it really helped me understand how events overlapped in the novel in a way that I wasn't immediately perceiving during the reading process.