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Timeline tool Histropedia lays it out for history pupils

Histropedia is an online tool that uses the Wiki approach to help students visualise history in an ordered way, just in time for the new school term, explains Katie Wright

Launched at Wikimania, Wikimedia Foundation's annual conference, Histropedia's ultimate goal is "to create the world's first fully interactive timeline for all of history from the big bang to the present day".

That's a pretty lofty aim, but the beta version is now live at Histropedia.com and it's beautifully simple.

Search for existing Wikipedia articles and you can add them to the blank timeline with a photo and different coloured line to represent each timespan.

Simultaneous events are stacked on top of one other and you can zoom in or out to vary the overview – from millennia to day-by-day detail. Right now there are one million Wiki articles in the Histropedia database, but if the entry you want to add doesn't have dates specified, an easy editing tool lets you add them. The interface is clean, clutter-free and a doddle to navigate.

Once you've got a timeline set up, that's when the educational advantages of Histropedia really kick in – and why it's better than similar existing timeline sites like Tiki-Toki.

A side panel contains more resources on each entry, including relevant Twitter pages, books and movies (with links to buy them) and, of course, the corresponding Wikipedia page.

Having the page embedded is really handy, as you don't have to keep swapping between windows to find out more.

Histropedia is set to get even better, too.

The authors, Navino Evans and Sean McBirnie, are now working on the next phase, with the aim of using Wikidata (the data-driven arm of the Wiki stable) as the main source for each event.

They also want to enable ready-made timelines by bringing entire Wikipedia categories on board. So a pupil studying the American Civil Rights movement, for example, could see all the major milestones of the period in just a couple of clicks.

It won't surprise you to learn, then, that Evans trained as a teacher, and that his idea was borne out of a desire to create more engaging lesson plans.

"We have already seen first-hand the impact the tool can have in the classroom after Navino used Histropedia to teach two trial lessons to year six students," McBirnie said, adding that the visualisation of dates "definitely helps students to grasp history more easily."

If Histropedia takes off like Wikipedia has (the crowd-sourced encyclopaedia averages about 11 million edits a month), it will become a hugely valuable resource for students and teachers alike.

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