Progress Reports


Extensive bibliographic research has been carried out to identify a wide range of projects which include historical timelines, historical event modeling, interactive historical mapping and map animation. All the material identified has been entered into the Heurist bibliographic database, which provides the core infrastructure for the project, and work continues on classification and annotation of this material.

Leading on from the bibliographic work, Ruth Mostern and Ian Johnson submitted a paper "From Named Place to Naming Event: Creating Gazetteers for History" to the International Journal of GIS (published in Vol 10, 2008). The paper argues that for applications in the Humanities, gazeteers can be more usefully regarded as a history of named places rather than a database of geographic locations. Further, it is argued that the importance of modeling history as a network of temporally and spatially located historical events linked through event relationships, and illustrated this concept with examples drawn from the Rethinking Timelines pilot event browser.

Ruth Mostern and Ian Johnson also participated in a Round Table on temporal modeling at the Digital Humanities 2007 conference at the University of Illinois Champaign. Ian Johnson presented a poster "All-on-one-page: linking maps, timelines and social bookmarking to build historical context and visitor engagement" at the Museums and the Web conference, and a paper in absentia (delivered by Ruth Mostern) "Spatiality and social web applications" at the American Association of Geographers workshop on Geography and History at the University of Virginia.


Background research has confirmed our initial view that little work has been done on the modelling and visualisation of historical events in coordinated spatial and temporal context (there is some work on modern event mapping, notably crimes, and on demographic data), and that even less has been done on the conceptualisation of timeline visualisation. There is a well-developed educational literature on learning from maps, but we have so far found nothing written on learning from timelines.

Based on this background review, collaboration between Johnson and Mostern led to a key paper (published late 2008), laying out the rationale for a new method of modelling history, based on the recording of historical events and their relationships, together with spatial and temporal footprints. In particular, we proposed that, for use in humanistic disciplines, gazetteers be reconceptualised as events with spatial footprints rather than locations with a (rarely recorded) time range. We proposed a simple ontology of relationships and side-stepped issues of uncertainty.

This work has been continued in both Sydney and Merced, with the assistance of Karl Grossner, a PhD student at UC Santa Barbara, who is extending the ontological concepts relating events and actors, and the inclusion of sources (thesis title: Spatiotemporal Data Models for Representing Human History in GIS). Cathy Campbell (APAI) has been testing the Heurist infrastructure and event-relationship structure as a platform for describing Armana period history, and in the process refining the structure and ontological relationships.

Infrastructure development work has focused on the addition of spatial objects, digitisation and a programming API to the Heurist platform; further development of the handling of relationships; methods of visualising related events on linked browser-map-timeline views; methods for handling the mapping of superimposed events, and events whose location is unknown but which relate to spatially located events. We have also investigated recording pathways and linking resources into user-defined narrative sequences, although this work is only very preliminary.


The education team aims to develop an educational pilot comprising a 3D immersive component with embedded text and 2D content, linked to Heurist to allow learners to annotate across the 2D/3D divide, reflecting on content. This pilot would be trialled with a small group of students, in cooperation with an interested teacher, in order to obtain feedback to refine the design. By subsequently bringing together a project from Australian National Maritime Museum with the rich content in MacquarieNet, we hope to be able to build a specific application which can form the basis of research on student learning, although this may not be achieved until the following year. Towards the end of 2009 we hope to recruit teachers at both tertiary and secondary level to trial the collaborative creation and use of historical event data and timeline visualisation. The education researchers in the team will set up best practice methods to assess the effectiveness of the collaborative content creation and visualisation methodology, both for engagement of students and for understanding and retention.

Specifically we aimed to research ways of capturing the knowledge and interpretation of experts about dating of events through assignment to archaeological or historical periods (in the broad sense of blocks of time within a particular geographic extent, down to the granularity of site-specific time intervals), and of handling multiple interpretations of both the dating of periods and the attribution of events to those periods. Our objective was to develop an explicit model which could incorporate uncertainty and interpretative connections and which could be implemented in a database framework.

Following on from development of the model, our objective was the development of a practical implementation of the model in the Heurist collaborative web database, including modifications to the system to support a range of possible dating methods (calendar dates, approximations and date ranges, statistical dates and so forth).

Following on from these meetings we experimented with a number of approaches to modelling historical knowledge, gradually refining and simplifying the model to a final form ready for implementation within the Heurist framework. Based on this work we implemented a temporal object data type and a library of routines for handling temporal objects, including an API for programmatic access; new methods of handling spatial data based on KML; new methods of handling record relationships to support the structure of pointers used in the model and to allow streamlining of data entry so that we can generate an intuitive interface to a web of interrelated events and interpretations. The spatial data handling and preliminary work on temporal modelling was used in the public launch of the Dictionary of Sydney in Nov 2009.

As a basis for trialling the map and timeline visualisation of their collection ANMM generated summary object data from their collection management database consisting of 35,000 records with date and location information. They see this as having potential for understanding and communicating the scope of the collection and influencing acquisition policies. This data has been prepared for import into Heurist. We developed some preliminary timeline display of historical events from Macquarie Library’s historical events data. This was themed on Australian constitutional history and designed for inclusion in curriculum focused teaching material. The major restructure of their web products during 2010 will mean these methodologies will be applied to a much broader range of material. Mostern and Meeks have also developed spatio-temporal data for administrative changes in the Song Dynasty, published as the Digital Gazetteer of Song Dynasty China ( which will be used as a trial database in further work of the project.


Building on our review of coordinated views and timeline visualisation, we will move towards the development of a new timeline component, which may be partially based on the widely used Open Source Simile timeline – however, this may prove inappropriate, as its underlying event description is quite simplistic and takes no account of event relationships, ontologies, uncertainty or fuzzy boundaries. A more likely approach is the use of directed graphs based on the development of a methodology for smart query expansion which will follow and visualise networks of relationships within the data, based on some preliminary research in this direction in 2008.

The technical team will complete the data entry interface for historical event recording early in the year, and this will continue to be refined through testing and user experience. It will be used on a variety of projects including Cathy Campbell’s Amarna case study, the ANMM collections data, Macquarie Library’s events database and projects at UC Merced. The results of the project will also be fed back into other projects using Heurist as a backend, including the Dictionary of Sydney (public website launched Nov 2009).

Cathy Campbell will use the new interface to complete entry of her Amarna data as a robust test case of the model. This will then allow us to develop and test map/timeline display of the new data structures based on temporal objects and interpretations. The scoping of effective methods of displaying imprecise dating and alternative interpretation on timelines will be a major objective of our subsequent research, with the development of prototypes later in the year.

Ruth Mostern will be teaching an undergraduate class on the history of the Silk Road in which students will create gazetteers and timelines for travel narratives. Feedback from this class will help refine the tools we have developed. Ruth Mostern is also creating a spatio-temporal database of all the floods (1,500), course changes (30) and other disasters on the Yellow River, China, which she aims to link to a history of settlement distribution and land use. One outcome of this work may include an educational game requiring students to manage the river, linked to historical reasoning about the consequences of particular actions by given constituencies.

Shannon Kennedy-Clark will be using the Virtual Singapura virtual world based on extensive research into 19th century Singapore history. Students’ collaborative actions will be analysed to identify patterns and similarities between their courses of action, leading to a greater understanding of how a Productive Failure (PF) treatment may work. Several sources of data will be used in this research. Pre, mid and post test scores will be used to see if there is a discernable difference between the PF and Non PF treatments. Semi-structured interviews, observations and verbal communication analysis will be used to gain an understanding of the learner processes, the participants’ backgrounds and the participants’ attitudes towards the learning experience. The study will be staggered over several sessions as students will need to access the environment over a course of several weeks to complete the required activities. A pilot (Jan/Feb) and two trials are scheduled for first and second semester 2010. The study will involve following the groups of learners throughout their engagement with the MUVE activity and information will be collected at several stages throughout the trial.