Timelines or chronologies are textbook staples. No major publishing house produces an American history survey text bereft of a timeline or some similar date/event display. And no publishing house can resist bemoaning how there are never enough pages for all the material that the authors wish to include.
Here's an idea: get rid of the timelines. Timelines take up valuable textbook real estate—usually one-half to a full page. Not only are timelines a waste of time (in more ways than one), but they are also a waste of space. They also violate practically every visual display princple, particularly Edward Tufte’s guidelines. What is the evidence that the timeline presents? Only that in any particular year there was a particular event or events. What is this evidence of? Time marching on? One damn thing after another? Where are the comparisons? Where is the multivariate data? What about the integration of words, numbers, and images? Does a timeline thoroughly describe the source of the evidence? And finally, what is the quality or relevance of timeline evidence?
A timeline is simply a list of years and events without any discernible relationship. What is more, nobody uses them. Can you imagine an instructor announcing, “OK, let's open our books to the timeline.” (Well, maybe some do, but I hope not.) The review questions, recommended reading, and web references fall into the same category. Here are textbook elements that are crying out to be put online. Would not web references be happier on—uh—the Web? And wouldn't a nice printable PDF be a more congenial format for the review questions? Do not, however, make an interactive timeline unless you've got a relationship(s) figured out. Do not.
And here's the payoff, textbook publishers: moving these things to Web on average frees up 30 pages of texbook space in a combined brief edition. That's 30 pages for more text, maps, images and, perhaps, additional coverage of the late 20th and early 21st centuries. Imagine what might happen to a full edition.