Book Review: Dancing at the “Cotillion of Co-Evolution” with J.R. McNeill’s Mosquito Empires

John R. McNeill, Mosquito Empires: Ecology and War in the Greater Caribbean, 1620-1914 (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2010). ISBN: 978-0-521-459105. Paperback. 371 pages. $25.99.

In Mosquito Empires: Ecology and War in the Greater Caribbean, 1620-1914, environmental historian and Georgetown University professor John R. McNeill advances the arguments offered by Alfred W. Crosby in The Columbian Exchange: Biological and Cultural Consequences of 1492 (1972). Crosby argued that the story of Columbus could and should be understood in an ecological framework, as an exchange of diseases (particularly smallpox), plants, and animals from old world to “new”; McNeill continues this line of argumentation chronologically, tracing the connection between ecology, disease, and imperialism in the greater Caribbean through the age of high imperialism and up to the beginning of World War I. Using an abundance of case studies, McNeill moves through time and space with dexterity, crafting a clearly-presented argument that acknowledges the important mutual relationship through which humans manipulate their environment and this ecology, in turn, acts as an agent of historical change in human affairs. As McNeill says in his introduction, “humankind and nature make their own history together, but neither can make it as they please” (6).

Although laid out with elegant simplicity, McNeill’s argument is deceptively complex: in the Greater Caribbean, creole ecologies created by the invasive imperialism practiced by white Europeans during this period served as the perfect breeding ground for mosquitos (brought over on European ships) carrying yellow fever and malaria. Local indigenous populations and early colonizers built up some immunity to these diseases, but those from higher latitudes possessed no such immunity, and new waves of military troops and civilians bent on further colonization provided the mosquitos with fresh supplies of humans to infect. This imbalance (McNeill calls it differential immunity) allowed native and local populations to remain relatively healthy while new arrivals perished in crippling numbers, essentially a reverse of the pattern set during the Columbian exchanges. The eventual result was, McNeill contends, that disease played a powerful role in complicating imperial efforts and often tipped the scales in favor of revolting and rebelling indigenous populations. European imperialists laid the ecological groundwork for their own destruction by importing, unwittingly breeding, and feeding the mosquitos which carried diseases primed to kill them.

It is to McNeill’s credit that he makes this complicated argument, spread over centuries and a reasonably large geographical area, accessible even to non-scholars. When necessary he uses scientific terminology like differential immunity (acquired when exposure to a disease makes individuals more resistant to re-infection) and herd immunity (conferred upon a whole population when a certain number of individuals possess immunity, cutting off the disease’s ability to circulate effectively) clearly, always careful to define how his use of the terminology is applicable to his argument. McNeill is similarly unafraid to adapt or create words of his own, allowing him to be both specific and concise. In the first chapter he defines the geographical spread of the work by establishing the term “Greater Caribbean” in reference to the “Atlantic coastal regions of South, Central, and North America, as well as the Caribbean islands themselves, that in the course of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries became plantation zones” (2). This allows him to move freely between Cuba and the Southern United States, between Haiti and Surinam, in service of his argument without particular concern for modern geopolitical boundaries. Perhaps the best example of this technique in action is the phrase “creole ecology,” a concept that beautifully encapsulates the process by which European imperialists, through trade and agriculture, unwittingly shaped the land they conquered into the ideal breeding ground for imported mosquitos and created a “motley assemblage of indigenous and invading species, jostling one another in unstable ecosystems” (23).

McNeill carefully cultivates a light, almost conversational writing style that makes reading this substantial book a real pleasure. Robust footnotes allow the text itself to flow like a cohesive narrative, undoubtedly appealing to non-scholarly readers, while scholars need only look to these footnotes for a wealth of primary evidence and historiographical connections. He doesn’t shy away from humor or the occasional colorful rhetorical flourish (as when he calls “the mutual and reciprocal impacts of geopolitics and ecology” a “cotillion of co-evolution”), even when it might threaten to damage his credibility to some readers (7). McNeill acknowledges that he is privileging a readable and entertaining narrative over the “standards of the historical profession” by describing 17th century medical practices in less-than-neutral terms (63). He’s equally up-front in anticipating accusations of environmental determinism (or “mosquito determinism”), admitting in the introduction that the elevation of one factor of historical change in an argument (in this case, disease) sometimes necessarily requires downplaying other contributing factors (6). Getting this out of the way early and clearly prevents endless hedging and caveats throughout the book. It’s refreshing to find an author willing to pull back the curtain and let the reader see how the sausage is made; I’d argue that in a book this complex, that straightforwardness is necessary.

If I have a concern about McNeill’s occasional tendency to sacrifice subtlety for readability, it’s that he often finds himself in the position of using historical accounts to diagnose diseases, primarily yellow fever and malaria but also dengue, smallpox, and others. As a caveat of my own, I’ll acknowledge that I don’t have much experience with this technique as a form of historical evidence, and I’m not nearly as familiar with the symptoms of these diseases as McNeill is. However, this seems like a risky endeavor; modern scientists, doctors, and historians understand these diseases completely differently than they did two or three hundred years ago, and there’s considerable crossover of symptoms. Misdiagnosis from historical accounts would be easy to do, but McNeill sometimes has to stand on this shaky ground or he’d have nothing to work with. In other cases, McNeill makes deductive leaps from data that I don’t think quite proves his case; for example, when discussing malaria in the Southern U.S. during the American Revolution, he points to the fact that 77% of deaths of people under twenty in a parish in Charleston occurred during the malaria season (209). This correlation is certainly suggestive of a malarial epidemic, but I don’t think it’s sufficient to prove causation or eliminate other possible causes of death. Some things historians can never know for certain, and that can’t and shouldn’t prevent them from trying to tackle important topics anyway, but every once in a while a minor crack like this appears in the armor of McNeill’s argument.

Mosquito Empires is a valuable addition to the fields of environmental history and the history of the age of imperialism. It’s not a complete historical account of the myriad complex factors and historical agents that impacted European imperialism in the Greater Caribbean, but then it doesn’t claim to be. What it is, however, is clear, well-reasoned, honest about its contributions and limitations, and fun to read. In a way it’s also powerfully provocative; the fundamental argument of the book encourages the reader to think critically about the changes humans have wrought on their ecology, and the consequences these ecological changes can in turn have for shaping human events. We might do well to note the parallels as the chickens of our own heavily-industrialized society—species extinction and climate change—come home to roost.

Wikipedia, Women Scientists, and the Dr. Zoidberg Problem

Noam Cohen’s New York Times article “Define Gender Gap? Look Up Wikipedia’s Contributor List” includes an example from Sue Gardner that sums up the absurdity of Wikipedia’s gender problem: a comparison between the Wikipedia articles devoted to author Pat Barker and  Grand Theft Auto IV protagonist Nico Bellic. Cohen notes that at the time of the comparison, Bellic’s Wikipedia page was five times as long as Barker’s.

This juxtaposition of Barker, an author of beautiful, haunting novels about WWI poets with Bellic, a ridiculous fictional character embodying every Slavic stereotype down to the tracksuit, could not serve as a better illustration of the gender issues faced by Wikipedia.

Unfortunately, the juxtaposition of a key female contributor to a field with a random video game character is not unique to novelists. It is almost too easy to see a disparity between articles on female scientists with fictional male scientists. For example, let’s compare the length and citation amounts of articles about female scientists that I randomly selected from a list of wiki articles that had been improved with the express purpose of better-representing female scientists with those of articles about fictional male scientists.  These comparisons show that even with a concerted effort to improve Wikipedia’s coverage of female scientists, these articles still manage to occupy little editorial attention when compared with those on fictional male scientists.

Round 1:

Rosalind Pitt-Rivers, key thyroid researcher

Dr. Zoidberg, noted anthropomorphic lobster

While Pitt-Rivers was a discoverer of one of the thyroid hormones and a leading expert in the field, her article’s length is no match for Dr. Zoidberg’s, who manages to claw his way to the top of this bracket. However, both of these articles share a similar number of citations (9 for Pitt-Rivers, 8 for Zoidberg). The research is out there, but not being utilized in this case.

Round 2:

Janet Niven, developer of vaccine against scrub fever, member of Royal Army Medical Corps, and viral researcher.

Miles, “Tails” Prower, sidekick to Sonic the Hedgehog and “mechanical prodigy.”

This even further illustrates the problem. Niven’s article is almost stub-length and only has four citations. The article for Miles Prower is massive in comparison; it even has thirty-five (!) citations. This comparison is so lopsided as to seem unfair on my part, so let’s be more generous and compare the article on Miles “Tails” Prower with a Wikipedia article on a more famous female scientist, Sally Ride.  Sally Ride’s article has forty citations, but although her entry is much longer than both those of Pitt-Rivers and Niven, it still manages to be much shorter than the article on the fictional scientist and prodigious Miles Prower.

What do these comparisons show us? I would argue that they illustrate the gender gap in Wikipedia editing. Unfortunately, Wikipedia editors tend to skew towards a male, tech-oriented demographic that values things that they consider important. In this case, it’s quite clear that fictional male videogame and sitcom scientists occupy a much larger space in Wikipedia’s radar than the scientific contributions and careers of actual, real-world female scientists.

Although this sample size is small, I invite the reader to compare articles on Data, Gordon Freeman, Doc Brown, with any number of female scientists. If you want to abandon the model of looking at fictional male scientists, take a look at the massive entry on Nikola Tesla, noted idol (although a real-world figure, his accomplishments are grossly exaggerated online) of the tech demographic, with the articles on Marie Curie or Ada Lovelace. While the articles on Curie and Lovelace are extensively cited, the amount of text devoted to them pales in comparison to that devoted to Tesla, the quintessential “mad scientist” archetype that appeals to Wiki’s current editorial demographic.

As of now, Wikipedia’s editors skew heavily towards an Anglophone, male, and tech-oriented demographic. This brief comparison of articles on key female scientists with articles on fictional male scientists further underscores the need for a concerted effort to get more women working as Wikipedia editors.

The Values in Question when We Question the Values of a Gender

A 2012 paper, “Conflict, Confidence, or Criticism: An Empirical Examination of the Gender Gap in Wikipedia,”investigates four hypotheses offered to explain the gender gap relative to Wikipedia contributors: fewer than 15% of Wikipedia contributors are female, despite a 44% female readership. “Conflict, Confidence, or Criticism” synthesizes recent work from psychology relevant to gender differences and attempts to make sense of these gender distinctions by way of a survey conducted across nearly 41,000 Wikipedia users.

Of the four hypotheses considered, the following three received evidential support from an analysis of the survey data: first, it’s suggested that women are dissuaded from contributing due to the high level of conflict involved in the editing, debating, and defending process; next, women are less likely to self-evaluate their knowledge as “expert”; women exhibit less confidence than male counterparts. Finally, women prefer to collaborate rather than carry out the individual task of editing and deleting others’ work.

The authors argue, relative to men, women are averse to conflict, lack confidence to claim expertise, and prefer to collaborate rather than work in isolation. These values, absent in female contributors, must be the values of the 85% male population who comprise the majority share of Wikipedia contributors. From this it follows that the culture of Wikipedia is one of conflict, confidence, and non-collaboration.

The recommendations from the article for improving the gender gap include: firm administrators who suppress conflict, systems to recognize contributors whose pages have received a Wikipedia assessment of “good article,” and tools for editing others’ work.

“Conflict, Confidence, or Criticism” supposes that a change in systems will result in a change of culture. It’s not at all clear to me that the solution lies in patching up a broken system with new tools, but instead change manifests through dialogue, relationship, and education.

The only strategy that approaches dialogue discussed within the article is instruction for women to continue a partnership with contributors with whom they’ve previously worked to, “foster a culture of collaboration.” Of course, this advice only extends to women who have previously contributed. This is not a prescription to put out the welcome mat for newcomers.

The call for administrators to better monitor conflict, implementation of systems and tools for editing, and some hand waving toward building collaboration are strategies tantamount to the child who complains of being bullied walking home from school and is given the advice, take another route. What needs to be done is addressing the bully.

. . .

Just this month (March, 2014) a story began circulating through higher education blogs: “Candidate ‘W’” was extended an offer to become a tenure-track professor of philosophy at Nazareth College in upstate New York. Candidate W, that is, she, after a record of friendly correspondence with faculty and search committee members, responded to the job offer by requesting, among other things, a higher starting salary, an official semester of maternity leave, and time to finish her post-doc. Candidate W signed off with this acknowledgment: “I know that some of these might be easier to grant than others. Let me know what you think.”

Nazareth responded by rescinding the job offer. No negotiation. No further room for discussion. Candidate W’s offer was withdrawn, and she was wished, “the best in finding a suitable position.”

Candidate W’s move toward negotiation is nothing but direct, confident, and independent—the very gaps that have been identified by the Wikipedia survey as absent for women, explaining the gender gap among contributors.

This is manifest of the incongruence that plagues gender discrimination: women’s “differences” are calling out for “accommodation” in the former Wikipedia case, yet when a woman demonstrates these “missing” values, as shown in the job offer case, she is dismissed as not in keeping with a “college [culture?] like ours.”

It seems that what is missing in both cases is the space for dialogue.

For Women Scientists on Wikipedia, the Devil’s in the Details

In 2011, the New York Times published a story on the gender gap on Wikipedia. A survey indicated that something like 87% of Wikipedia editors were men, despite the fact that men and women read Wikipedia in relatively equal numbers. Some in the sciences raised concerns that women scientists were being neglected on the website. The articles of women scientists were less substantial, less meticulously-cited, and failed to meet Wikipedia’s good article criteria. Despite recent efforts like the 2013 Ada Lovelace Edit-a-thon and the Royal Society Edit-a-thon, the Wikipedia articles of female scientists still bear the marks of this gender gap. Even as larger inequalities are slowly corrected, seemingly-inconsequential details reveal a troublingly gendered treatment of women scientists on Wikipedia.

Take, for example, the case of Rosalind Franklin. Her early and mostly-unacknowledged contributions to the discovery of the double-helix structure of DNA helped James Watson and Francis Crick create their DNA model, an achievement that won the two men a Nobel Prize in 1962. In the scientific community Franklin’s reputation has been (mostly) rehabilitated to correct this slight, and her Wikipedia entry addresses this controversy in a reasonably frank and detailed way. However, a look at Franklin’s “Talk” page hints at less obvious problems. In October of 2013, a user noted that “the article focuses more on her family and activities than on Franklin’s life itself. If you compare this to someone like Francis Crick…Franklin’s early life [section] is severely lacking in information about her.” And it’s true—the section of Franklin’s article on her early life and education is twelve sentences long, fewer than half of which are about Franklin herself. Mostly the reader learns that her father taught at the Working Man’s College, her uncle held a political position in the British Mandate of Palestine, and another uncle literally whipped Winston Churchill. While the latter is an interesting tidbit, it doesn’t tell us much about Franklin, and defining her by the achievements of her male relatives is a poor start to any description of Franklin’s life and work.

I’d also suggest that the names we use to talk about these women matter just as much as some of the big picture issues of Wikipedia editing. In July of 2013, an anonymous user on Franklin’s “Talk” page pointed out that in reference to the TV movie Life Story, the article referred to male characters by their first and last name (James Watson, Francis Crick, etc.) but called Franklin “Rosalind.” The user says, “The use of a first name alone to refer to a historical figure should be reserved for situations where that is necessary or appropriate.” In this case, use of their full names conferred respect and authority to the male scientists, and the casual familiarity of using just Franklin’s first name subtly dismantled her scientific credibility. Similar issues appear on the Wikipedia page history of Esther Lederberg, a microbiologist who discovered specialized transduction in the virus lambda phage and developed laboratory procedures like replica plating that changed the practice of genetics. In 2008, user DGG pointed out, “When not using the full name in a formal context, her name… is Lederberg, or E. Lederberg. It is not Esther, which would strike many people as sexist condescension.” Like Franklin, Lederberg’s authority was undercut by the use of her first name only. You wouldn’t catch anyone referring to Francis Crick as “Francis” in his Wikipedia article.

Lederberg’s Wikipedia article also contains some out-of-place trivialities that, combined with the less-than-robust nature of the rest of the entry, encourage the reader to take her less seriously as a scientist. The section “Other interests” discusses Lederberg’s love of Gilbert & Sullivan and her dislike of Michael Crichton’s pop-science fiction. The information is cited and probably true, but what relevance does it have for Lederberg’s career and legacy? The article for Lederberg’s husband and fellow scientist Joshua Lederberg contains no such fluff—it is carefully curated and clear. I’m not saying we should forget that women scientists were people with interests, but nobody is talking about how Niels Bohr liked to dance the foxtrot. The inclusion of such information in Lederberg’s Wikipedia article trivializes her work.

In the larger conversation about gender bias in Wikipedia articles, these issues—first names, Gilbert & Sullivan, an uncle who beat up Winston Churchill—may seem like nit-picks. Really, they’re emblematic of how deep the gender gap runs, how pervasive our use of gendered words and conventions is, and how elusive Wikipedia’s standard of neutral POV continues to be when it comes to the entries of women scientists.

Women? What Women? I Don’t See Any Women…

About five years ago, the topic of women in science (or rather the lack of women in science) came up in a conversation I was part of. At that, I was perplexed because I had just spent thirty-eight years working in medical laboratory science, a line of scientific work populated overwhelmingly by women. This year, I am in a class on the History of Science, Technology, and Medicine, where I learned of an effort underway to write women into Wikipedia articles that are authored overwhelming by men.

(see http://meta.wikimedia.org/wiki/WikiWomen’s_Collaborative)

In medical practice, the stuff that comes out of patients (blood, urine, sputum…keep on naming familiar excreta) is usually analyzed by medical laboratory scientists (MLS) and according to the U.S. Department of Labor, in 2013 72.9% of these professionals were women. In 2007, I researched a presentation for National Medical Laboratory Professionals Week at the Indiana Medical History Museum and I learned that women performed this kind of work for about one hundred years. The exact moment in time was not captured, but apparently a doctor somewhere threw up his hands (yes, I said his) and wailed something like “I don’t have time to do one more stinking urinalysis!” So he grabbed the little office girl who swept the floors, filed papers, and washed the glass urine collection bottles and said, “Honey, let me show you what white blood cells in urine look like.” This was repeated independently in other offices around the U.S. At least a few of the fair maids did not squeal and run away, and voila! a new occupation was born. The doctors found that the women possessed qualities that well suited them for laboratory work. They were neat, organized, dexterous, and were very good at doing dishes. In about ten years the discipline, then called medical technology, grew and educational requirements were placed around the participants. Today, these applied scientists are educated in most of the same courses as a pre-med curricula plus a year-long rigorous professional training program.

So why does the world not know about this cache of woman in science? Perhaps for the first eighty years, when labs were housed primarily in basements or out of the way hospital halls, rare encounters might explain it. But now? In the great Information Age? Surely, the truth is being told. The Sasquatches of health care really do exist and are typically female. So I turned to Wikipedia, the source of information so many consult today. I typed in clinical laboratory scientists and was directed to medical laboratory scientists. OK…same difference. All textual information was correct, to my knowledge, but something was strangely missing. Women.

I really didn’t expect to see the same history of the medical laboratory profession that I just described. On the other hand, I was not prepared for the photos. The site contained four photographs of medical laboratory scientists in their “work environment.” Three of the four images were of males. The last photo at the bottom of the page is of a woman in Russia in a scary looking lab with a mason jars and papers saved on spike nails. Is it crazy to expect visuals to reflect the true demographics of a group? Furthermore, two of the men are not pictured in the most typical MLS work environment (hospital or other diagnostic laboratories). One is captioned that he works in a research lab, and the third, is not captioned, but a tell-tale printout from a 1990s Hewlett-Packard Mass Spectrometer precariously perched on a ledge tells me that he is not in a typical MLS’s lab.

In fairness, I think the article’s author tried to give it a global perspective and I’m looking at just my corner of the world. But still: if someone looks at this site to construct a history of MLS, the evidence will mislead and its historically female composition will be lost. This is agnotology—how we don’t know what we don’t know. Perhaps it’s due to a persistent clinging to the History of Wonderful Important People. There aren’t many Wonderful Important People in MLS who make world-changing discoveries. But they make discoveries on individual levels. About 60-70% of treatment decisions made by your physician are based on the results of laboratory tests. Most of those results were generated by women working in an area of applied science who, as an aggregate, contribute to health care in abundantly valuable ways.

Digitally Undecided: Casual Advice on the Right Timeline Tool for You

A reader asks . . .

DEAR ADAM: This spring I’ve really enjoyed the History of Science and Technology after 1750 course. We have a project coming up, and I’m not sure where to start. The assignment is to evaluate tools for creating web-based timelines. The professor is digitally savvy, and I’m afraid I won’t select the best tool for the task. Can you please help? –DIGITALLY UNDECIDED

Dear Digitally Undecided: I understand your predicament. Don’t fret. You’re well on your way, even if you don’t realize it yet. You have noted the importance of selecting the right tool for the task. All digital timelines are not created equal. Let’s see if I can clear up the confusion by ranking the top two in each category among the five most common timeline tools. I’ll rank via cost, aesthetics, and functionality.

But before we get to specifics here’s what the top timeline tools are up to, in summary.

TIKI TOKI.

Intuitive, interactive, cross-platform integration, and boy do the timelines look great! Tiki-toki timelines offer vast customization options and the power to import photos and video from Flickr, YouTube, and Vimeo. Get out the pocket book if you want to embed these beauties on your personal site.

TIMELINEJS.

The open source revolution is in full swing, and it’s not just for Linux users anymore! (Can anyone tell me what Linux is?) TimelineJS has a lot going for it because you only need a little to get it going: totally free service that integrates seamlessly with Google Drive. Great import functionality with services such as: Twitter, Flickr, Google Maps, YouTube, Vimeo, Vine, Dailymotion, Wikipedia, and SoundCloud. The only hang up is the aesthetic: these timelines, though easily embeddable, are a little clunky.

TIMEGLIDER.

Grad students, data analysts, and serious history buffs, this tool is for you. Timeglider is text and data driven like no other. The views are a little outmoded, so you won’t get the sex appeal of Tiki-Toki. No matter: a lot of you will find the functionality wins out over aesthetics, any day. Timeglider allows you to collaborate online, tag your timelines and events, and then search those tags in endless combinations. You can even present two or more timelines together. Pocket protectors, unite!

TIMETOAST.

You can’t be everything to all people, but Timetoast comes pretty close. The aesthetics aren’t far behind Tiki-Toki, the functionality allows for online collaboration, timelines can be embedded, and a handy “Timeline”-“Text” toggle provides two layout choices. There doesn’t seem to be much in the way of user support, though.

DIPTIY.

Dipity, as far as I can tell derives its name from Serendipity (and who doesn’t love John Cusack!?) If you’re familiar with the film that’s a nice metaphor for what this timeline tool is up to: presenting the chronology of events just right, and . . . kismet! Dipity organizes web content across hot topics and displays these trends for users in a highly functional interface. Several views are available: timeline, flipbook, list, and map, so users can select the best presentation for whatever it is they are presenting (or viewing). Plus the tool is $FREE. Bonus.

**

The RANKINGS (drum roll please)

COST. because money doesn’t grow on trees, and you’re a poor college student

The winner is: TimelineJS for its open source approach, incredible cross-platform functionality, and ease of use

Honorable mention to Dipity for its cool functionality and bringing a social media flare to timeline tools

AESTHETIC. beauty isn’t just in the eye of the beholder

The winner is: Tiki-Toki. No big surprise here, if you’ve been reading along at home. These timelines are highly customizable, interactive, intuitive, and geourgeous.

Honorable mention to Timetoast for its interactive layout and two-view toggle: timeline and text

FUNCTIONALITY. can I get a hallelujah, data geeks

The winner is: Timeglider for giving you a million and one ways to present, search, and collaborate on your individual or group timelines

Another honorable mention to Dipity for the flexibility in layout ability to search by “hot topic”

**

Overall, I put Tiki-Toki and Timeglider in the head-to-head, winner takes all round. And guess what? It may be a draw. Choosing among these tools one must ask herself, what story do I want to tell? who’s my audience? how invested are they in the information? If you have an engaged cohort of hardcore historians: Timeglider is the way to go. On the other hand if you’re looking to capture the attention of newly interested parties, and if first impressions are everything: Tiki-Toki is your ticket to group engagement.

Happy timelining, folks. Don’t forget to create an entry on your timeline for the date you read this blog and made your choice!

Choosing Timeline Software

A timeline is a great way to present history and arguably one of the best all-around ways to learn history. The IUPUI Bepko Learning Center website reminds us that students’ learning styles vary comprised of visual, auditory, and kinesthetic preferences. A timeline created with well-chosen interactive software that incorporates several different elements can cater to different learning styles. The result may boost interest and understanding of historic themes.

Using a timeline can also communicate far more than dates of significant events. Timelines that mark the duration and location of events allow students to understand how historical eras emerge and how they influence history down the line (see “Time and Chronology” article in Teaching History. Jun 2012, Issue 147, p26-34. 9p.).

For this class, Professor Kelly proposed five online timeline options with the aim that one option would receive an imprimatur for use in a whole-class project. I will base my judgment of the five nominees on how well each one satisfies the needs of learners, as stated above, and the practical needs of this class project. Just to simplify matters, let’s just say that the mere exercise of creating a timeline will meet the goal for kinesthetic learners.

TimeToast clock

This is an extremely easy to use format without many bells and whistles. The expanding balloon for text keeps the appearance tidy. A slide bar allows the user to spread out or compress the timeline. An interesting example shows “legacy” events that happened after the last entry in a biographical timeline. One can link to other website, but embedding video is not an option. Each entry provides only one layer of information.

http://www.timetoast.com/timelines/geologic-timescale-98266d0e-6b3d-4537-b17f-9f2191d5cfba

 

Timeglider  http://timeglider.com/

An appealing feature of this timeline is the use of symbols and varying size of text to elucidate categories of events and their relative importance. This eliminated the need for multiple timelines for complex projects and sends a big visual shout out for critical incidents. Changing the importance/size of an event is easy: Click on the icon, and a slider appears that lets you enlarge or shrink the event. A legend sits in the same window that allows the user to easily filter types of information. This would be a good option for visual learners

Dipity  http://www.dipity.com/

Narrowing down to the last two candidates, the decisions become harder. Diptiy truly seems easy to use and add entries. It also comes with an endorsement of sorts from http://www.teachinghisotry.org, a service of George Mason University. Users can change the scope of the zoom depending on the chronology to be followed Information can be tagged and users can be granted permission for comments. The timeline builder can capture content from blog postings, photos on Flickr and YouTube videos. This product also grabs entries from the internet to form a timeline. While this seems like an excellent option, my heart is with the next candidate.

Timeline JS  http://timeline.knightlab.com/

This timeline also allows introduction of content from several internet sources with built-in functionality, meaning that on supported sites like Wikipedia, the entry is boiled down to point-and-click. While it doesn’t have the stunning look and the 3d excitement of Tiki-Toki, the roll bar across the top of the webpage allows image input for interest. The bar also adds another approach to organization. The Timeline JS site promises simple data entry via a spreadsheet, but that is a bit of a bait-and-switch.When trying the example, there was more fiddling with html than I am comfortable with. It has such a clean look and I would like to choose it, but the complex building instructions scare me way.

Tiki Toki   http://www.tiki-toki.com/

This seems to be the Cadillac of timeline software. It certainly presents the most visual pop compared to the others (meaning you have the ability to create the visual pop). The 3D feature takes you down an Appian Way of events with points of history falling behind you on your journey. It promises the ability to embed information effortlessly in your own website and to link to information on other websites and servers. I tried it and it actually works. This option will be good learning tool for this class.

Click here to see TikiToki in Action