History on your classroom walls

What has an illustrated historical timeline got to do with Einstein's relativistic spacetime? Well, the very charms and constraints of teaching history go through the sharp edge of spacetime. Surprised?

Purely from a science teacher's perspective, let me share where my history colleague anchors her history lessons. When she talks about Egyptian civilization or Indus Valley or India's struggle for independence - she builds the context around her content in her lesson plans, activities (role plays!) and stories around a (geographic) space and then weaves her classroom magic around few decades (or centuries) before and after the said event. The historical timelines she may use are severely handicapped as they are linear and too factually boring. The two dimensions (length & breadth) of the textbook page is limited to tell only that much.

On x-axis she cannot have too large a time if she tries to show big picture to her learners. The fascinating history of 13.8 billion years right from the birth of the universe is too big to help her learners make sense of it. Carl Sagan's iconic 'Cosmic Calendar' did address that issue creatively and in such child-friendly way that history, geography & science teachers can now easily help their middle school students to create their own versions depending on the (geographic) space and depending on a (specific) time. Check this one below from AsapScience.

Still there's a snag. Her discussions, for example on the Dark Ages paints the whole world in the same brush. Are the European Dark Ages 'dark' for rest of countries & civilizations therein? If she helps raise her learners' curiosity beyond the immediate (geographic) space and the immediate (chronologic) time, they face a very generative question.

What's happening in space X in time t, when space Y is experiencing an event E?

My colleague knows that no chart will ever do justice to give an experience of 'simultaneity' - if I were to use such a word. The key question at the heart of any (history) teacher is this. How to help their learners build multiple perspectives, how to give honest space for different points of view, how to give/find voice for any (historical) event apart from the usual suspects. In short, how to build Big Picture. The 'whens', 'wheres' and more interestingly 'what elses' together at the same time.

Few years ago the BBC has hosted a series titled The History of the World in Backwards, a quirky take on the epoch making events where the story goes backwards (but the time in the story goes forward).

When she used it with high school graders, this narrative of reverse chronology worked awesomely fine. It still takes an Euro-centric world view and doesn't (intend to) have simultaneity of space and time. 

This very lacuna of 'non-simultaneity' is what Christopher Lloyd's Wall Books attempt to fill. His lucid text & Andy Forshaw's illustrations make timelines in vogue again.

In the above image you can glimpse what else is happening at the same time in other continents when China was building the Great Wall (Simultaneity)

Data visualization is never the same thanks to likes of David McCandless & Hans Rosling. They made data relatable, comprehensible and lively. Their contributions, alas!, are not (meant) for school going explorers. Some of them need softwares to run. Whereas, Lloyd's Wall Book is simple, engaging, accessible and ready-to-be-remixed. In his own words:

Instead of learning about our planet under different subjects, here's a book that allows the reader to look at this amazing world as one, huge, fantastic place - you can read about when the one-celled organism was born, when wars were fought, where scientific discoveries were made, what was happening in different parts of the world at a given time..

Not only that, he also shares a note '15 fun ways for teachers and parents to use The What On Earth? Wallbook for boosting learning across the curriculum!' His publishing house sets the tone when it says, What on Earth Publishing specialises in the art of telling stories through timelines.

Shari Tishman wrote somewhere, 'Teaching through objects helps students learn how to think things through by uncovering the power of thinking through things.'  This TEDx talk where Christopher tells the story of the universe through 20 ordinary objects embodies that.

So, what is new for a wallbook that first came in 2010? Well, the pocket-friendliness of a Pratham Book version in both English & Hindi! Having used it in sessions on 'Types of Possible Content Creation beyond Texts' for MA (Education) students who are to develop middle school grade curricular materials on history & social studies, these wallbooks form a basis for telling stories that have no beginnings and no endings but a robust element of connecting the dots of the past, giving them meaning and making them memorable through visualization, context, cause & effect.


All images are from Chris Lloyd's website.

The author thanks Mujahidul Islam for being a partner in crime in using Chris' wallbook in our sessions.

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