Created: 2021-11-03 Updated: 2022-03-22 (Added Shakespeare)

This is an idea I’ve been mulling over for a long time: keeping a personal timeline of history. By "personal" I don’t mean a timeline of things in my own personal life. I mean a timeline of general history containing only events that interest me, personally.

When I read a biography or history book, I often wish I had a place to "peg" that information with the other historical things happening around that same time. See more rambling thoughts after the timeline.

The Timeline

This is going to start small - I know better than to try to make this even slightly complete at the outset. Instead, as I read new books or articles, I’ll go in and add dates at that time. I suspect I’ll also prune entries that didn’t end up being important to me over the long run. This is true digital gardening.

There will probably be a lot of computer, space exploration, and literary items here. :-)

-0285 The Great Library of Alexandria in Egypt established.

1308 Dante Alighieri begins writing Divina Commedia (The Divine Comedy).

1585 Shakespeare actively writing (until around 1613)

1645 The Book of Five Rings by Miyamoto Musashi written/published.

1755-04-15 A Dictionary of the English Language by Samuel Johnson published.

1818-01-01 Frankenstein by Mary Shelly published.

1845-07-04 Henry David Thoreau embarks on his Walden experience.

1854 George Boole publishes "The Laws of Thought" with his Boolean algebra.

1867-02-07 Laura Ingalls (Wilder) born in "Big Woods" Wisconsin.

1915 Endurance, Ernest Shackleton’s Trans-Antarctic expedition ship is trapped in pack ice and crushed.

1928 Ten volume (unofficially titled) Oxford English Dictionary published.

1932 Little House in the Big Woods by Laura Ingalls Wilder published.

1936 Alonzo Church creates the lambda calculus

1936 Alan Turing creates the theoretical Turing machine

1937 https://web.archive.org/web/20150325003810/http://cm.bell-labs.com/cm/ms/what/shannonday/work.html[Claude Shannon writes his thesis proving that switching circuits can solve the same problems Boolean algebra can solve. (The foundation of digital circuits.)

1944-08 Herbert A. Werner (author of Iron Coffins) takes command of U-953.

1948 Claude Shannon’s "A Mathematical Theory of Communication" formalizes information theory

1951 Foundation by Isaac Asimov published

1954-07-29 The Fellowship of the Ring (LOTR) by J. R. R. Tolkein published

1957 Sputnik (USSR), the first space satellite, orbits earch

1958 NASA established

1965 Dune by Frank Herbert published

1966 Luna 9 (USSR) is the first probe to land on the Moon

1961-04-12 Yuri Gagarin is the first human in space (USSR, Vostok 1)

1961-05-25 John F. Kennedy: "I believe that this nation should commit itself to achieving the goal, before this decade is out, of landing a man on the moon and returning him safely to the Earth."

1962-02-20 John Glenn makes three orbits around Earth in Friendship 7 (Mercury-Atlas)

1965-05-18 Alexei Leonov is the first human to perform an EVA (USSR, Voskhod 2)

1966-11-13 Buzz Aldrin performs first extended EVA (Gemini XII)

1967-06-01 Marvin Minsky’s Finite and Infinite Machines published.

1969-07-20 Humans first step on the Moon (Apollo 11)

1969-10-29 First message sent on ARPANET (UCLA to Stanford)

1969-11-19 Second Moon landing (Apollo 12)

1970-04-11 Apollo 13 launches

1973-05-14 Skylab space station launched

1977 Voyager 1 and 2 are launched

1977-05-25 Star Wars released.

1978-06-08 Intel 8086 released

1979-06-01 Intel 8088 released

1979-07-11 Skylab re-enters Earth’s atmosphere and is no more

1979-10 TI-99/4 home computer released.

1979-10-12 The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy (adapted from 1978 radio series) by Douglas Adams published.

1980-05-06 The Empire Strikes Back released.

1981-06 TI-99/4A home computer released

1981-08-12 IBM PC (model 5150) released (based on Intel 8088)

1983-05-25 Return of the Jedi released.

1984-06-08 Ghostbusters released.

1984-07-01 Neuromancer by William Gibson published.

1986-02-20 Mir space station launched

1987-09-28 Star Trek: TNG first airs

1990 First web server goes live at CERN

1992-03 Intel 486DX2 released

1992-05-5 Wolfenstein 3D (id Software) released

1995 Doom (id software) released

1996-05 HTTP 1.0 (RFC 1945, Berners-Lee, Fielding, Frystyk) published

1998 ISS: initial components launched into space (first on Zarya rocket, then Space Shuttle)

2000 ISS: first crew to live on the station

2000 Fielding "Architectural Styles…​" dissertation (REST)

2001-03-23 Mir re-enters Earth’s atmosphere and is no more

Rambling notes

A while ago, I was thinking about how I was taught history in school. Basically, each year we were introduced to another chunk of history along with a list of dates, wars, conquerers, victims, and the names of some legal documents.

(Aside: Ugh! How can they make all of the fascinating things that have happened in all of human history so boring!? No, don’t email me with the answer. I know why it’s like that, it’s just such a crying shame.)

No attempt was made to tie these chunks together into some sort of cohesive whole. Now that I have children in the same education system, I’ve been thinking about how it could be improved.

An idea occurred to me: what if each kid had a timeline (maybe bunch of fan-fold paper or maybe a digital document) and every time something from history interested them, they added that item to the timeline? At the end, they’d end up with a personalized selection from of the whole of taught history (plus anything that interested them outside of school).

How neat would that be?

And like the reading journal I started for an 8th grade class in 1992 and keep to this day, a person could continue to add to that timeline for the rest of their life. What an incredible resource that would be!

I read history books and articles and very rarely put those events into a larger context. I would love to have a personal timeline. And finally: what was stopping me from starting such a timeline? Nothing!


I imagine that eventually the timeline will become very large and rather unweildy to make sense of as a whole.

I suspect I’ll evenutally attempt to apply various data manipulation tools so that it renders in different, interesting ways. At the very least, events could be tagged so that a separate "computing" or "space exploration" timeline could be extracted (or at least highlighted) from the larger whole.

Or maybe it can become interactive and serve as a visual memory palace (how cool would it be to nagivate the "Halls of History" in a 3D world composed of your own personally-selected events?).

For now, this is going to just be an ordered list.

Date format

I think I’ll just be doing the portion of dates that are actually known or relevant:


That’ll keep things machine-sortable.

For uncertain ancient dates, I’ll probably use 0 for the least significant digits of the year:


Then for BCE dates, I’m inclined to go with negative numbers, keeping four digits (though maybe I’ll be adding events over 12,000 years ago?).

-0100 = 100 BCE
-1000 = 1000 BCE

I’ll definitely want to link to Wikipedia (at the very least) for easy access to more information about key people/places/events.

I’m going to try to link to my own book reviews as much as possible. For now, those are going to be Goodreads links, but I’ve debated putting those reviews on my website for some time now (I’m just not excited about having to keep them up-to-date in two places).


Ideally, the timeline would also link to my own notes about each subject. That way, I could occasionally refresh my memory from my own words. I imagine there are many, many benefits besides just recall: surely perusing a personal historical timeline with personal notes would lead to making all sorts of creative connections (not to mention "a ha!" realizations) between historical events.

Digital gardening

I like the term "digital gardening" because of the wonderful imagery in evokes. It’s one of those terms that I find instantly self-explanitory in that sort of "I know it when I see it" way.