Dipity for the Political Thought classroom?

Description“First impressions” of Dipity? Didn’t Dipity already get a mention at ProfHacker? Well, yes, it did, in Billie’s overview of timeline programs. And that post wasn’t the only one we’ve done about timeline programs, either; Ethan wrote about Bee Docs Timeline about fourteen months ago.

So why another timeline post, and on a tool that’s already been mentioned?

Mostly because for the first time, I was thinking of thinking of using a timeline for one of my courses next semester. Oh, I wasn’t planning anything quite as detailed as the timeline of Shakespeare’s plays performed at the Globe Theatre (see the initial image in this post). I was planning something simpler: a timeline of the political philosophers we’ll be stuyding in my Political Thought course, so students could see where those philosophers stand in relationship to one another and to major historical events.

Dipity looked like a good candidate. As you can see from their homepage, their timelines look good [click on any of the images below for larger versions]:

Dipity home page

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The interface for adding events to the timeline manually is simple and straightforward:

Adding an event

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It’s also possible to pull in events using a search of popular network services; Dipity will automatically populate your timeline with any items it finds using your keywords.

Another way to populate the timeline

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To test this feature, I had Dipity search YouTube for the term “digital humanities.” This is what it returned (and no, I did not deliberately place the video featuring Brian and Jeff at THATCamp Prime front and center; Dipity did that all by itself):

DH timeline

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With its ability to both add items manually and to pull in entries from all over the internet, Dipity’s a promising tool with a lot of possibilities. However, I reluctantly had to come to the conclusion that it wasn’t likely to be a good tool for me.

That’s because of a major limitation that it has right now. Readers may have noticed in one of the images above that I tried to add Aristotle to my timeline, listing the dates as 384-322 BC. Dipity didn’t like that date. It also didn’t like BCE, 322 BC, or -322. In fact, I couldn’t enter any date prior to the year 100.

At first I thought I was going crazy, or doing something wrong, but then I did a little poking around on Dipity’s site. Here’s what their FAQ says in response to the question “Do you support dates before 100 A.D. or dates B.C.?”:

The switch to the new Dipity widget has made pre 100 A.D. dating possible. However, we have yet to fully implement this important tool. BC dating, including specific BC dating, should be available soon. Stay tuned.

I was relieved to know that my problem wasn’t user error, but this limitation poses a serious obstacle to me given that I’d need my timeline to start with Sophocles and include Plato and Aristotle.

So for now, I’ll be forgoing the use of Dipity, or at least postponing its use until later in the semester.

Have you had any experience with using Dipity? Have you found other timeline tools that (a) can pull in a lot of different kinds of resources, (b) allow for adding entries manually, and (c) can deal with dates prior to 100 A.D? Let us know in the comments!

[Image by Flickr user Dysanovic / Creative Commons licensed]

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