Exploring the Presidential Timeline

Last week, on President’s Day, the Learning Technology Center at the University of Texas at Austin, in conjunction with twelve presidential libraries and Terra Incognita Productions, launched the interactive Presidential Timeline of the Twentieth Century on the web (as briefly noted in a recent AHA post.) This extensive multimedia project brings together digitized resources from the presidential libraries to create a single point of access for students, teachers, and interested adults from around the world.

The Interactive Timeline provides brief biographical sketches of each of the twelve presidents from Herbert Hoover to Bill Clinton, with paragraphs introducing the president and describing his “Early Life and Career,” “Presidency,” and “Post-Presidency.” An age-appropriate photograph accompanies each of the sections. For example, Eisenhower’s “Early Life” photo has him as a cadet at West Point, his “Presidency” photo has him at a press conference, and “Post-Presidency” shows him as an old man. By clicking on “explore timeline” at the bottom of any section, a visitor reviewing a particular president can see what he was doing in a given year. They can also compare that president’s life to what others were doing at the same time, or to other major historical events, such as the civil rights movement (for example, what was Gerald Ford doing when JFK was in office?). Key personal, political, and world events are also on each president’s timeline, and are clickable, which brings up a paragraph describing the event and the president’s involvement in it.

JFK Timeline

Singular events are given the more in-depth treatment in the timeline’s “Exhibits” section. Here, one key event from each presidency—Pearl Harbor from FDR and the Fall of the Berlin Wall from George Bush, for example—is examined in greater detail. Photographs and primary documents (with complete bibliographical information for easy finding in the library) appear on screen and are weaved together with narrative paragraphs describing the event and its significance. Most of the photographs and documents are printable, and in another section of the web site the exhibit planners have put together sample lessons and questions to help teachers use the exhibits in their classrooms. Each lesson has students interacting with and interpreting the primary source photographs and documents that appeared in the exhibits, for a hands-on history experience.

Planned future upgrades to the site include enlargeable photographs in the exhibits section, and a whole new “Gallery” section with more extensive presidential records.

Timeline Lesson Plan with Primary Documents

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