Erin Dickey

Data Visualization, Digital Humanities

Testing TimelineJS


In class this week, we looked at two New York Times Interactives: Riding the New Silk Road and Forging an Art Market in China, as well as the Metropolitan Museum’s Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History and the BCG course site Media and Materiality. All represent examples of ways to map both space and time.

“Riding the New Silk Road” presents a journey in mostly images and video, with very little text, juxtaposed with a map of Hewlett-Packard’s overland route for transporting electronics from China to European markets. It is simple and effective, though, given the title, I would have liked to see side-by-side comparisons with the historic Silk Road, rather then just a section of the modern route. The use of video in connection with points on the map is especially dynamic.

The Met’s Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History was something of a disappointment (no more timeline! unclear connections between objects!). I’m still in awe, however, of the amount of information available for perusal and connection. It strikes me that the Met tried to strike some sort of balance between creating an atmosphere of serendipity for the casual browser and building a powerful resource for the scholar. It may have fallen short, but this tool is still eminently usable by visitors at all levels. Its biggest failing is likely in the lack of a visualization (or visualizations) designed to draw the casual or student user in immediately.

“Forging an Art Market in China” has a number of graphics that chart, over time, the appearance on the auction market of works by specific artists. None of them are conventional timelines, which makes them all the more appealing. The final graphic is a video which visualizes the many thousands of Qi Baishi works offered for sale from 2000-2013. At 18 seconds long, it quickly and powerfully conveys the implicit thesis of the article: Going by numbers alone, it is inevitable that many of the works sold by Chinese auction houses and purportedly created by famous artists must be forgeries.

Of the BGC course visualizations, I was most taken with the typography timeline. Its structure is, however, utterly mystifying. A right-to-left chronological order of dates and corresponding images, descriptions, and quotations would improve this tool tremendously.

In my test of TimelineJS, below, I chose to chart notable moments in the history of art-and-technology in the latter half of the 20th century, from the first cybernetic sculpture to Jack Burnham’s landmark exhibition, Software, at The Jewish Museum. The user is somewhat constricted in the number of design choices TimelineJS allows, but what it lacks in customizability, it makes up for in ease of use. I’ll be adding to this timeline for next week’s post, or adding a map to this data using TimeMapper.


  1. Hi Erin,

    I had a similar reaction to the Riding the New Silk Road timeline. It’s such a beautiful timeline, and I think the balance of text to image/map/video kept me engaged, but I was a little let down with the content only because I was also expecting information on the historical silk road! It is hard to point out flaws in this amazing resource, but one thing I want the Met’s Heilbrun Timeline of Art History to make easier is the ability to look at a specific date (or an interval of time set by the user) to simultaneously look at the way different cultures or artists treated, say, quilts? The way I remember the old timeline was that you could look at time in that linear way and then drill down from a date (and B.C. ages, monarch regimes, political revolutions were labeled. This might be faulty memory ). I agree that TimelineJS lacks customizability but is really easy to use. I suppose there is always the option to use JSON data to further customize, but that remains a little out of my league for the time being. Something to keep in mind for the future, though. Your timeline presents a great intro to your topic. Do you have opinions about the timeline on top versus bottom of the slideshow? Also, have you, or anyone in class, figured out how to set your own start date? Do you think it is just an aesthetic decision on Timeline JS’s part to not start the timeline at the date charted at the first slide?

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