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British Library Launches New Virtual History Timeline

First virtual history timeline opens up new world for students and teachers

New interactive history timeline developed by British Library allows students and teachers to explore collection items chronologically for the first time. www.bl.uk/timeline  

Comparing the Peasants' Revolt with the Punk Revolution or medieval astrology with the Apollo moon landings might appear unconnected at first, but the British Library's new interactive timeline will allow students to get a sense of change, continuity and chronology when studying historical events.  Bringing together material from the Library's vast collections and using cutting-edge technology, users will now be able to discover historical connections and create links in an exciting multimedia experience.

Developed by the Library's Learning team with historians and writers, the timeline includes some of the Library's key collection items from medieval times to the present day such as records of political events, glimpses of everyday life and writings and speeches from some our best known historical and literary figures.  Scanning through centuries of images, audio-visual and printed material, users will be able to explore various themed timelines: ‘everyday life', ‘music and literature' and ‘politics, power and rebellion' on one screen.

Highlights of collection items featured include:

  • Records of major events - from the Black Death and the Great Fire to the French Revolution and the abolition of the slave trade.
  • Printed matter - the first English printed book, the first cookery manuscript, the first English bible and the first postage stamp.
  • Public Life - posters, advertisements and illustrations documenting everything from public executions and magic shows to plague cures and séances.
  • Campaigns - pamphlets and writings from activists such as Abolitionists, Chartists, Communists and CND marchers.
  • Manuscripts - written by great figures in history including Henry VIII, Elizabeth I, Captain Cook, Beethoven, Wordsworth, Abolitionists, Florence Nightingale and Dickens.
  • Maps - cities, military campaigns and imagined lands.
  • Patents - including those for the Spinning Jenny, the bicycle and the machine gun.

As well as the more well-known collections items, the timeline will also include some of the Library's more unusual sources, opening up a new world of education and learning.  Items such as a medieval Valentine's letter (1477); a 15th century recipe for custard (1440); a Renaissance anatomy book (1543); a royal proclamation announcing England's first national lottery (1567); a 17th century dictionary of criminal slang (1674); a newspaper reporting the Great Fire of London (1666); an 18th century guidebook to London prostitutes (1788); a Victorian ‘freakshow' poster advertising a ‘living mermaid' (1886); and a Make Do and Mend' ration tips pamphlet (1943); these will allow everyone to become an expert as they explore and find fascinating links dating back to 1215.

Roger Walshe, the British Library's Head of Learning, said: "Finding innovative ways of engaging with the past is increasingly crucial for students and teachers alike.  This timeline demonstrates how we can mesh traditional historical sources with new technologies to support future teaching methods, allowing  users to engagingly pursue their own research.

Students will be able to trace a variety of stories in one space. For example, an early advert for curry powder from the 18th century reflects the changing tastes of East India Company Workers and reveals tales about the politics, trade, culinary and cultural exchange of that time - a unique insight into life during that period can be gained from one everyday item."

Through the use of innovative Flash programming, users will be able to dig deep into collection items, download information and images, view transcripts, add items to favourites and switch timelines and key events at a click of a button.  This will allow for interesting and unique comparisons to be made between various aspects of social, political and cultural life. Users will be able to focus on specific subjects such as political campaigns or technological change or alternatively compare themes within one specific time period - for instance, popular cultural ephemera with items recording political events. Timelines is an ongoing initiative for the British Library and new sources and themes will be added regularly. 

Dan Lyndon, Advanced Skills Teacher (History), at Fortismere School, said, "The new Timelines: sources from history resource from the British Library is a must for all teachers wanting access to their vast archive in a quick and accessible way. The pinwheel navigation allows the user to spin through time at a pace that is manageable making the search for resources straightforward as well as eye-catching. The Library has collected together an array of important and interesting gobbets, neatly combining text and images, and the ability to overlap a variety of themes helps to extend the depth and value of the website."

The British Library's Learning team is a world-leader in providing access to collection items and resources for students and teachers.  Using it's award-winning website that attracts 1.2 million visitors every year, the Learning team has consistently developed ways of giving users the chance to explore the Library's collections in a new light.  Future developments include major resources to support English Language and Literature study.


Notes to Editors:

A few historians have worked closely with the British Library on the Learning Timeline including:

  • Liza Picard - historian and writer about London
  • Alixe Bovey - lecturer in History at the University of Kent, where she specialises in Gothic art and its cultural context
  • Matthew White - Research Fellow in History at the University of Hertfordshire, where he specialises in the social history of London during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries.

For more information, visuals or interviews please contact:

The British Library Press Office
Ben Sanderson
T: 44 (0)1937 546126

Jacob Lant
T: +44 (0)20 7412 7105

Out of hours: +44 (0)20 7412 7150

The British Library is the national library of the United Kingdom and one of the world's greatest research libraries. It provides world class information services to the academic, business, research and scientific communities and offers unparalleled access to the world's largest and most comprehensive research collection. The Library's collection has developed over 250 years and exceeds 150 million separate items representing every age of written civilisation. It includes: books, journals, manuscripts, maps, stamps, music, patents, newspapers and sound recordings in all written and spoken languages. Further information is available on the Library's website at http://www.bl.uk/.

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