The TimeMaps series is designed to illustrate historical change in a visual and dynamic way, through interactive maps and animated diagrams. The aim is to convey historical knowledge and understanding to students who have a more visual, less textual or verbal approach to learning, as well as reinforcing learning in all students whatever their learning style or academic ability, by placing historical knowledge in a broad chronological and spatial context.
The idea of animated and interactive maps as source of historical information is a very appealing one because it allows historical processes to be illustrated with great clarity and simplicity – in this environment a picture is indeed often worth a thousand words. Different trends and episodes can aptly be thought of in terms of pictures, shapes and patterns. The Rise and Fall of Nazi Germany includes several examples of this: as well as the obvious use of animated maps to show the expansion and shrinkage of the Third Reich before and during the Second World War, interactive diagrams are used to convey the intricacies of the Weimar constitution, and the take-over of that constitution by the Nazis (shown as the constituent elements successively turning red, with mouseover pop-up boxes containing explanations).
There are of course many instances of maps and diagrams on the Internet, some animated (the BBC History site contains several interesting animations, for example). Each TimeMap title seeks to develop this approach by linking together a series of such map sequences so that users remain in the same environment while they explore a subject, enabling them to compare and contrast over space and time, and allowing them to gain a quick overview of a large topic in a main map sequence, and then delve deeper into the close-up sequences.
2. TimeMaps: Rise and Fall of Nazi Germany
An overriding principle in the TimeMaps series is to make the user interface as simple to use, and the contents as easy to navigate, as possible. Highly structured screens enable the user to become quickly familiar with the functions necessary to make his or her way around the materials.
In a sense the map/diagram sequences can be describes as timelines, and the content is structured around a series of such timelines. Timelines can sometimes be an arid and artificial way to explore the past, but bringing in the geographical dimension invests them with an interest and dynamism that clearly brings out the significance of events and episodes. There are few historical processes that would not benefit from this treatment. In The Rise and Fall of Nazi Germany, for example, the power struggle around Hindenburg which eventually let Hitler into office has been illustrated in a highly stylised, interactive animation with the main players circling the ageing President, communicating with each other and moving into and out off the “inner circle” of power. A standard timeline would not convey this process with anything like the same force.
As with the timeline approach TimeMaps offers a chronological, narrative treatment of the past, event-by-event – and one which offers the opportunity to explore certain themes or topics in more depth. So for example there are short visual presentations about the Versailles Treaty and the Weimar Republic. These modules make use of electronic medium to illustrate what can be complex – not to say boring – topics when covered textually or verbally, with visual clarity and movement.
A key question for the developers, as with any educational work, was, at what age group or ability level to pitch the content. One of the theoretical advantages of a program such as this, as against a text book, is that it can cater for a wide range of abilities, with younger or less able users following the main timelines and the more able or interested delving into more detailed material. This is the approach that has been adopted, and the developers will listen carefully to comments from teachers to see the extent to which this has been successful.
A related issue is, what to include in the content? The answer to this is to a great extent determined by the question, how will it be used by teachers? Will it act as an addition to already existing resources? If so it should only include the animated maps, diagrams and charts that best suit electronic medium. Or should it be a potential sources for self-study by students, and therefore have as much information about 3rd Reich as a standard text book?
The approach followed has been in line with the second option. This is in part because, technically it is a great deal easier to take material out of a product later than add it in; but also because it was strongly felt that the TimeMaps product could function well as a study resource for individual students reinforcing their knowledge and understanding of the subject. Furthermore it was felt that many elements of the study of the Third Reich lent themselves very appropriately to being presented in animations and interactions.
In due course teachers may call for different versions of the titled, aimed at different age and ability levels and at different environments for use, but this is something for future feedback. At present the development team sees its use in a variety of different settings: from whole-class presentation with whiteboard through to individual self-study. This variety is reflected in the accompanying teacher guidance, with a particular focus on small-group work.
Whatever the use, however, the principle adopted of using only small amounts of text on screen should be advantageous. There are examples of text boxes which contain large areas of text, but these are for the user seeking more detailed information and can be skipped at will. Generally the user is confronted with only a few sentences, especially in the ‘overview’ text boxes which accompany each screen – normally limited to fifty words. The use of pop-up boxes on text links, however, allows for a large amount of information to be presented in a readily digestible form.
As with most CD-ROMs, the information is presented in such a way that the user is cast in a fairly passive role. This is unavoidable in a title that seeks to impart a large amount of information, and is valid if the electronic medium is used in such a way that it adds value to that information. However, the resources contained within the CD-ROM are well able to sustain a more active use, and with this in view a specially prepared website is being developed in which all the resources will be available for use by teachers and students in a range of activities. For example, individuals or small groups might undertake exercises such placing undated maps and diagrams on a timeline and providing a narrative to accompany them. Using these resources they will be able to prepare their own presentations. The online resources will also enable teachers to create their own tailor-made presentations should they to do so.
Another feature of the website will be that it will contain resources not covered in the CD-ROM. Amongst the first of these will be presentations on Hitler’s early life and on the Nazi creed.
The last section on the CD-ROM itself deals with the Second World War – or at least those theatres in which the rise and fall of Nazi Germany were played out. At the end of each year the tracking of military events is interrupted by a review of how the Germany people and others – the Jews especially - were progressively affected by developments during the year. In the current version these short presentations have been deliberately left within the main map sequence, and not parcelled off into separate modules. Users are “forced” to encounter them. The reason for this is that the development team felt that it was important for students to understand that during the Second World War there was a great deal more of historical significance than was taking place on the battlefield.
The Rise and Fall of Nazi Germany is the first of a new series of titles under the TimeMaps banner, and shows many of the features envisaged for the series.
They will be characterized by a visual approach to history, but one which is accompanied by textual commentary that makes for an in-depth treatment of the topics. The animations and interactions show change clearly and concisely, and the structure of the content is designed to allow a sweeping overview of topics as well as more close-up, detailed investigations. The development team will be looking for comments from the teaching profession and will incorporate this feedback into future versions – which will be received free of charge for at least a year by purchasers.
TimeMaps: The Rise and Fall of Nazi Germany is available on 30-day free trial from
TimeMaps, 1 Main Street, Horsley Woodhouse, Ilkeston, Derbyshire DE7 6AU.