Friday, 31 May 2013

'The Next Time(line)': Creating a Digital Timeline for Wordsworth's 'Prelude'

Back in February, I published a post reflecting on time in Wordsworth's Prelude, a topic I'd been considering in my role as Research Assistant on a project called 'The Next Time(line)'. The aim of this project was to create a new kind of literary timeline for the digital age, using the touch-screen device to offer an interesting, compelling, and ultimately more in-depth experience for the user than a traditional print counterpart could provide.

We considered three great works of literature - Wordsworth's Prelude, Hugo's Les Misérables, and Shakespeare's Henry V - over the course of the project, but for our final prototype app concentrated on Wordsworth. The timeline we produced allows the user to trace the development of The Prelude from its earliest manuscript form through to its final rewriting, with the visualisation on the screen demonstrating how the poem grows and transforms over time. 

The user is able to isolate a single episode from the text and see how it changes across versions; perhaps it moves position within the body of the work, contracts, expands, or splits as the text goes through a series of rewritings. Layered over this are a series of contextual timelines which offer an insight into some of the factors which shaped The Prelude across time, including the biographical, historical, social, and political contexts. It's possible to see, for example, what Wordsworth read in a particular year, and how and where this may have impacted on his revision of the poem. The user can choose which of these timelines to layer on the screen, focusing on certain contexts and isolating particular moments before moving back out and fitting these details into a bigger 'pathway' through the text.

This was a fascinating project to which to contribute, and it was lovely to work with such an innovative and ambitious team. If you'd like to know more about our digital timeline, this 4-minute film gives you the chance to hear the team talk about their experiences of working on the project and to see the app in action.


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