Tool Reviews

David F. Huynh, Massachusetts Institute of Technology

Historians have long appreciated the benefits of timelines for charting developments over historical periods. The Timeline tool from MIT's SIMILE project now allows digital scholars to create dynamic, customizable timelines with no server- or client-side software installation. One of the most useful things about this tool is its ability to cover large periods of time (such as this example of Jewish and Christian history) as well as very small ones (such as this example of the JFK assasination). A multiple-scrollbar feature allows easy access to any part of a timeline, no matter what size it is.

Events can be marked as a duration of time, as instantaneous with an imprecise starting time, or as instantaneous with a precise starting time. Optional pop-up windows provide further explanation or description of events, allowing even a very "full" timeline to provide a lot of information without seeming too crowded or confusing.

Currently, documentation for Timeline is very limited. There is a tutorial, and one can read listings of definitions of elements, but further documentation currently refers users to the code itself. However, it appears that more documentation will be coming shortly. In my opinion, at least until more documentation is available, the Timeline application is fairly difficult to install—I had much better success with Exhibit (see review page), another tool available through SIMILE.

Once the fuller documentation becomes available, I hope that many digital historians will make use of this excellent tool. Its professional appearance, user-friendliness and wide accessibility will make it a positive addition to many works of digital scholarship.

Amy Gant
University of Nebraska-Lincoln
Reviewed: May 2007