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Planning Temporal Projects

Temporal projects place one or more objects into context based on the passage of time. Typical projects include timelines, as well as narrative projects where temporal intervals play a key role.

Published onOct 14, 2019
Planning Temporal Projects

The typical phases of a temporal project include the following stages, though you may revisit elements of them several times or follow them in a different order. In particular, you will likely go back and forth between your desired form/features and available tools as you seek the right match for your work.

Temporal Project Stages

  • Evaluating the types and amount of content you want to include.


  • Determining what sort of temporal structure you need and the features you want to include.


  • Determining whether you can use existing platforms and whether you will need to program custom additions.


  • Adding content to the timeline.


  • Amending content and display features; adding custom code if needed.


  • Optional: embedding your project in another program or platform like a website and publicizing it.


  • Planning for backup and maintenance of your project.

The most critical aspects of planning a temporal project are figuring out whether existing off-the-shelf programs will work for you and getting a general sense of the amount and types of content you expect to include. These two elements will be the primary determinants of how much time, labor, and money a temporal project is likely to need.

Many digital projects relating to time are driven by the idea that a “traditional” sequential timeline built as a list of dates and events won’t work. Temporal projects will look very different depending on what features motivated the choice of a digital format for a project. Common reasons to build digital projects with temporal components include:

  • Needing to make a timeline that displays well on a website or other virtual platform.


  • Wanting to include a variety of media, like maps, audio, or video. Often this additional media also has a temporal element that needs to unfold.


  • Needing to address issues of scale, especially trying to combine very large and very small time scales in the same project.


  • Dealing with uncertainty, as when dates or durations are unknown, or when there are competing narratives or contested events.


  • Balancing multiple simultaneous narratives or complex interactions between different types of events.


  • Trying to create a narrative or causal connection between discrete moments in time and needing to show how events or ideas connect to each other within a temporal framework.

After you have evaluated these functional needs for your project, you should assess what material will be included and its format. Often tools only work with certain types of media, with limited amounts of data, or with specific types of date formats. Consider:

  • How much content do you have? It is relatively rare for a temporal project to have too much content for a tool, but some formats work better with smaller numbers of separate entries or with a limited amount of content displayed for each entry. Consider both the total number of discrete “events” you need to describe, and the amount of detail you will include for each.


  • How specific are your dates and what formats are they in? Do you know years or days, or do you have relational structures like terminus ante quem / terminus post quem limits? How consistent are your dating formats? It is very common to need to deal with a variety of levels of specificity in the same project.


  • Do you have events with start and end times (like wars, eras, or lifetimes), or are most of your entries described by a single point in time (like birthdays, consecrations, or release dates)? If you have ongoing ranges of dates, do any of them overlap?


  • What media do you need to include along with dates or temporal sequences? Almost all tools support text; many support still images or simple maps. Other forms of multimedia are supported by particular programs.


  • What kinds of relationships or connections do you need to show between events or records in your project? Will you guide visitors through a predetermined path or narrative, or would you rather provide an unguided field to explore?


  • Do you need to embed your timeline in a website? Do you need to be able to download your timeline for use in presentations or to store in a local drive?

With this overview in mind, you can evaluate which tools will work for you and create a work plan and budget.

Continue Reading: Tools & Resources for Temporal Projects

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