The Essex Timeline, A Thousand Times Worse Than Death, is a work-in-progress of Professor Hank Dobin from Washington and Lee University.  Although still in its early stages–at best 20% complete–the Timeline is now open to the public.

Although the project to compile and analyze representations of Essex has been in the works for years (but on a long hiatus due to more than twenty years of administrative appointments), the turn toward the digital humanities is more recent.   Many digital humanities project are based on Geographic Information Systems (GIS) that tie deep data to spatial representations; this Timeline is an effort to develop an equally robust, visually appealling, and easy-to-use model of what can be called a Temporal Information System (TIS).

The Timeline is an ancient device ripe for reinvention in the digital age.  The design of the Timeline permits the user to make a quick visual survey of the temporal landscape to see clusters or gaps of activity, to investigate any one entry on the timeline with the click of a mouse, to drill down to a complete summary and analysis of each entry, to follow links to scholarship and other sites, and to view embedded images and video when available.  In addition to the diachronic aspect of any timeline which plots points of time in linear space, the Timeline includes an exciting synchronic component: a second band that includes key relevant moments in British and World history as well as important life events for both Essex and Elizabeth–with the same drill-down functionality.  In other words, the Timeline can be read both horizontally (diachronically) and vertically (synchronically) to capture in a single glance both a sense of literary influence and history over time and the important contextual co-factors that locate and help explicate any one text in time.

A digital timeline offers other obvious advantages, including the ability to filter the information (if, as an example, you are interested mainly in dramatic representations of Essex) and to search for key terms and figures.  Perhaps most important, however, the digital model invites genuine interactivity–the ability for users all over the world to contribute to the content.  An ambitious project such as this–covering four centuries, both history and literature (and all genres), and numerous languages and countries–is beyond the capacity, and certainly the expertise, of any one person. It is the ideal model for curated, crowd-sourced scholarship. This digital timeline will encourage and (quite frankly) need the collective and collaborative effort of many interested and knowledgeable people to succeed.

This timeline was constructed in the summer of 2014 using an open source MIT-developed program, Simile, combined with proprietary W&L software developed by Jeff Knudson.  It continues to evolve in function, form and content.   There may be cooler timelines out there in the ether (take a look, for example, at the Arab Spring Timeline created by the Guardian newspaper); however, for scholarly purposes, this Timeline is a state-of-the-art digital tool.

When first viewing the Timeline, please be sure to read the “Introduction and Instructions.” Our hope is that, sometime in the upcoming year, the wider scholarly and interested community will be able to made direct contributions, comments, and (no doubt) corrections to the Timeline as it continues to evolve.  Please check back soon to see if that crowd-sourcing capability is fully functional.  We invite your participation.

In the winter of 2014, Hank Dobin and his undergraduate students in ENGL 292: Representations of Elizabeth developed and populated a prototype timeline.  The classroom, either undergraduate or graduate, is the ideal, controlled venue to experiment with the collaborative crowd-sourcing of such a digital project.  The experiment was a wild success, with hundreds of entries replete with information and analysis, almost all contributed by students.  We have also made the Timeline available to the public, and hope in time–as we do also for the Essex Timeline–to enable contributions, comments, and corrections from the scholarly and interested public. Please enjoy Semper Varia: Representations of Elizabeth.  You will find an Introduction and Instructions at the upper right of the display.