Follow the Line
I am looking for historical timelines that I can purchase or download for the late elementary or early middle school level—both US history and world history. Any ideas?
There are plenty of timelines available on the web, for free and for sale. But not all timelines are equal. Different timelines emphasize some events or periods over others, and some “timelines” are actually chronologies. So, you’ll want to be a critical consumer as you browse the universe of available resources.
A good place to start is with resources recommended by the National History Education Clearinghouse. The Teachinghistory.org website has reviews of the Presidential Timeline, which explores the lives of 12 presidents from Hoover to Clinton, as well as of a Brief Timeline of American Literature and Events, 1620-1920, which divides eras and decades into year-by-year timelines. The Presidential Timeline is an actual timeline—it has a line, marked with dates, that runs left to right across the screen. The timelines included in the Brief Timelines of American Literature and Events, 1620-1920 are vertically-oriented, moving through blocks of time from the top of the screen to the bottom. Remember as you’re choosing your resources that younger students sometimes struggle to recognize big leaps in time; one of the great strengths of a traditional timeline is that it places events on an evenly-spaced line that accurately represents temporal distance.
There are other good timelines available on the web. One of the best is Digital History’s Interactive Timeline, which includes a sliding scale (horizontal) that students can use to bring up events on a map of the United States. The BBS offers a similarly detailed interactive timeline for British history. Ohio State University’s Ehistory project has a number of vertically-oriented timelines focusing on American and world history, some of which move year-by-year through history. Each resource is divided into categories for tracking changes across politics, science, culture, etc., which may be useful depending on what your aim is.
Chronologies, though they differ somewhat from timelines, can also be quite useful. The Library of Congress’s American Memory website, for instance, offers a number of chronologies that move from the top of the page to the bottom, and often cover events year-by year. They are available on a number of topics, from African-American history to women’s suffrage. Other first-rate web destinations, like PBS, offer chronologies on a range of topics like the history of slavery and the history of the American West. CNN’s Millennium website is something of a timeline/chronology hybrid and covers 1000 years of world history.
Though they may not be useful for younger students, some web resources include primary documents along with their chronologies. The Smithsonian Institution, for instance, offers a list of resources organized by historical period. The University of Oklahoma College of Law has a chronology of U.S. historical documents with links to the documents themselves—a great tool for the appropriate audience.
The web, of course, is not the only place you can find timelines. National Geographic’s Illustrated Time Line or John Teeple’s Timelines of World History are books for purchase, and offer a wide selection. The Social Studies School Service also offers plenty of relevant tools. If you go to the site and preform an advanced search for "timelines" you will find a multitude of materials from different periods in history. Be sure to limit the "Subject" section to "U.S. History".
Finally, you might consider having students make their own timelines. You can begin that work with tools as simple as paper and pen, or with some of the tools outlined in this posting from teachinghistory.org. There are also some great online resources like an online interactive tool from DocsTeach. A project of the National Archives, it offers four activities on topics like women’s suffrage and the Civil War ask students to organize primary documents.