Atoms, Honeycombs, and Fabric Scraps: Rethinking Time in Teaching and Research

Lecture Description

Time is at the very heart of what western-trained historians do. Timelines are a regular feature of almost all history education. As teachers and students, we create them on chalkboards, white boards, and an increasing number of web-based programs that allow multiple users to collaborate on a timeline’s shape. Textbooks offer timelines to accompany the material they cover – chapter by chapter, students are told which important events merit inclusion on such a chart. Timelines are, without question, deeply useful. They help students create order out of a mass of information, map the context that surrounds a particular event, and assess cause, effect, and correlation. Yet timelines can also be limiting. They can rarely capture multiple perspectives on a single event, and they tend to elide the question of authorship – a timeline seems to simply be rather than being tied to a person, or a group, with a particular view upon the past. Timelines suggest a certain completeness – especially the versions presented in textbooks – that is at odds with the fragmentary, interpretive work a historian undertakes. It’s hard to construct a timeline that adequately shows the influence of ideas over hundreds of years, or which can connect events happening thousands of miles apart. Timelines privilege a Western, linear vision of time over alternate explanations, and, too often, timelines are also dissociated from a sense of place, existing with little reference to landscape or environment. So how can we come up with a better understanding of time? This lecture offers suggestions, rooted in active-learning practices in the college classroom.



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