Visualizing History

For my data visualization I created a timeline of most of the diplomatic dealings of the colonial government of Dedham, Massachusetts and their Indigenous neighbors. Here is a link: Dedham Timeline. Personally, I think that this turned out really well. Timeline. JS’s spreadsheet is quite comprehensive and easy to use although I have two complaints with this software. 1.) I spent a long time citing my sources, which I inserted into the category “Media Credit” which I assume is how one would cite the media that they put on their timeline. Since I did not use media initially, I assumed this information would still post but as a regular citation. It did not. I hope that in the future they will allow some way to add citations for books. 2.) There is an option on the spreadsheet to change the slide background color by “entering a hexadecimal color”. This is the one area where the software is not helpful to those with less experience creating anything on a computer. I do not know what a hexadecimal color is so I apologize for the boring appearance of my timeline.

Visual Data Pros and Cons

Pros: Typically historical visual data is very eye-catching and fun. This encourages those who may be less interested in history to learn something new. Additionally, visual data is a wonderful organizational tool. It can bring data from multiple sources together, which makes such data much easier to analyze. Timelines, for example, are very helpful to remember dates and the chronology of events. Timelines are also great tools to see how rapidly, or not rapidly things transpired. In creating my timeline I found that it became easier to pick out historic themes and trends. It became very obvious that the different forms of government in early colonial America held different levels of importance for those living under or around them. Although it is written into early American laws that settlers needed to buy and sell land in respect to Indigenous title, this timeline easily shows that it is not what actually transpired. Dedham settlers were quick to seek land and approval under English law and did not care to purchase title from the Indigenous peoples whose lands they were on until half a century after settlement. Although the land deed of 1685, the one in which the Native Americans ceded all title to the land that is now Dedham, was “confirmatory”, there is no evidence in any of the earliest town records to indicate that Chickatabut actually sold or gave up this land. Although this information can be conveyed in words, it is much easier to understand when presented visually. Other tools such as maps or graphs allow for an easier conceptualization of numbers and space.

Cons: Typically, historical visualization with too many words, or too much data, can look messy, overwhelming or confusing. This can lead to a lot of issues. The creator of the visualization tool may have to pick and choose what information they want to present.  Additionally, there is not much room for analysis. This could leave the information wide open for misinterpretation. Due to the lack of room that these tools typically provide, it is not uncommon to see timelines , maps or other methods of historical visualization that are little more than lists of facts. While they hopefully provides accurate and valid information, a simple list does not always  help one engage with or think critically about the subject.

4 thoughts on “Visualizing History

  1. Nicey executed. I think timelines work especially well for demonstrating this kind of slow power creep – it may not always be evident from a single snapshot, but it becomes clear once you have everything in chronological order. I do agree with your point about lack of analysis, though – I feel as though timelines should only be used to accompany more serious argumentation, not replace it.

  2. Great timeline! For future reference, a hexadecimal color is used in website design. They use a combination of six letters and numbers to define the color needed. For example, white is #ffffff. If you’re interested, you can learn more here: I got into the same trouble with media citation. Also, I agree that it’s common to see timelines/data visualizations that are nothing more than lists of facts, but I think they can stand alone when done well. A well crafted timeline should tell a story.

  3. Your question about citing sources used for these data visualization projects is an important one. Especially when pulling data from various places, I can imagine that in projects like this the source of information can be easily confused (for both viewers and creators of data visualization). I actually really enjoyed clicking through your timeline. This format is especially useful for analyzing what events (in this case relating to the diplomatic dealings between Indigenous people and the colonial government) happened in immediate succession and which were more spread out.

  4. I agree with you that Timeline is a good software, but it can be challenging when thinking about content. It is the type of platform where you must write really what is most necessary because too wordy Timeline presentations do feel a bit boring. I felt that for yours you did a great job at highlighting the important of the history you’re writing. Also like you and the previous comment a citation space is very necessary.

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