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This timeline provides an engaging way of exploring the rich sources of content from the British Library’s History & Citizenship collection. The primary target audience is teens, history and citizenship teachers and, ultimately, the general public.

The design and presentation meet two key learning outcomes as outlined in the national curriculum: a chronological understanding of history and changes and continuity across periods of time. It balances an immersive interface and rich visual content dating back through 800 years of history and audio content dating back to the 19th century. Visitors can explore priceless ancient manuscripts in detail (ancient texts are transcribed into English), compare events from different timelines (social, political) and build timelines and save them as PDFs.

Part of the challenge was to keep the operation simple despite the amount of content. The original navigation concept was for a flowing Flash timeline that could be “thrown around” in a virtual 3-D environment using mouse gestures. When user testing proved it to be an unnatural operation that many people didn’t understand, it was replaced with conventional on-screen navigation options backed by keyboard cursor key operation. The content structure is theme-based, allowing events through time to be compared visually.

• A 3-D Flash engine introduces depth to the content—elements turn in 3-D and the entire timeline bends back and forth as visitors travel through time elements.

• As the scope of the project grew, the development spanned three phases; including extensive user testing at the completion of each phase and content population the project spanned five months.

• The application was built in Actionscript 3 and published as a Flash 10 application. All content is pulled from the content management system as a series of XML files. 3-D visual elements were done using the Papervision Flash framework.

• The site currently has over 400 pieces each with a mixture of audio, video, image and copy elements.

  • The default timeline pulls in the 400-element XML feed then pulls in the associated thumbnails progressively;  it allows visitors to begin exploring content quickly with minimum delay or visual compromise.

• All content was entered by the library through a content management system.
www.bl.uk/learning/histcitizen/timeline/historytimeline.html

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