Interactive timeline for the teaching of modern European social and political history, c.1900-1950

Carl-Henrik Bjerstrom, Department of History

College Postgraduate Teaching Prize 2015 


To enhance the learning experience of the students on the History course ‘The European Crucible, 1914-1947: Society, Politics, and Culture’, I designed an extensive interactive timeline in Prezi that allows students to see complex connections in one composite image. This timeline became both a valuable teaching tool in seminars and a useful online resource for students, who could access the material any time from Moodle. There were two versions of the timeline: one complete version, showing a large number of events in chronological and country-based order, and one abbreviated version, which moved between different national and chronological contexts in order to encourage students to approach modern European history from a comparative and analytical perspective. The second, abbreviated version was used in my short 10-minute introductions to the seminars.

The design of the timeline is based on an outline map of Europe. One timeline relating to European-wide phenomena (mainly the World Wars) stretches across the outline map. Frames with more detailed country maps and country-specific timelines can be found at the approximate location of each country. When moving across the timelines, the Prezi zooms in on the specific location where an event took place, and shows an illustrative image and a text explaining the event. Following the timeline students therefore get a clear sense of geography as well as chronology. In total the timeline contains frames referring to approx. 400 events. Each frame also contains seminar questions and quotes to stimulate discussion. Due to its size, the timeline had to be divided up into four segments (corresponding to seminar weeks).


Full-length version of the first segment:

Abbreviated version of the first segment:


One of the main benefits of this illustrated timeline, and one of the reasons why I tended to use sections of it for my seminar, was that it serves as an effective tool to stimulate students’ historical imagination. Historical imagination is crucial in the teaching of history; it transports students to the time and place discussed and allows them to engage more fully with learning materials and seminar questions. Provocative questions and surprising facts function well to trigger students' curiosity and interest to learn, but the impact of these are far more compelling when combined with an arresting mental image or an imaginative reconstruction of the past.

Using an illustrated timeline offered the students a sense impression which could serve as a basis for analytical reflection. In my seminars, this reflection took the form of group discussions (often beginning as pair discussions) around a number of pre-set seminar questions. The aim of these discussions was to encourage the students to analyse critically the sequence of events shown on the timeline and incorporate this knowledge into a wider understanding of the historical period taught on the course. The formulation of the questions was typically open-ended, which would also allow room for students to explore any aspect they found most interesting. Finally the group would move on to other concrete case studies or conclude the session by summing up central arguments made in the group debate.

An important advantage of the Prezi timeline is that it could be made available to students online (via Moodle). Thus they were free to return to the sequences used in seminars while preparing for the next session or revising for exams. Students were also strongly encouraged to explore the full extent of the timeline in their spare time – the sections used in class represented only a quarter of the material available online – as this would help them to gain further knowledge of particular countries or periods that interested them.

The timelines were first used in autumn 2014 and student feedback forms from that year contain several comments highlighting their great value as a learning aid. I also received positive feedback on the Prezi when students came to see me regarding course work. It is noteworthy that the coursework submitted in autumn 2014 contained far fewer errors with regard to facts of time and place compared to previous years.


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