Relative Time Replay: History, In Real Time

Brilliant, brilliant, brilliant: via my feed subscription to Jane’s e-learning pick of the day, I just came across We Choose The Moon –, a real-time recreation of the Apollo 11 moon landings.

Twitter feeds are also available…

That is, @ap11_capcom , @ap11_spacecraft and @ap11_eagle.

This ability to follow along replays of historical events in relative real time (realitive [re/al/i/tive ?] time;-) provides a degree of authenticity that makes the event ‘real’. So is technology enabled real-time replay being used in education at all (other than in hugely expensive simulation training environments?).

Although I rarely play online games, there is one I keep coming back to – Sharkrunners which allows you to go on a scientific mission in search of sharks…

And whilst I don’t read many history books, I’ve often thought that replays of things like Harry Lamin’s letters from the Wordl War 1 trenches were ideal for either real-time, or daily feed replays. ( A quick trawl will probably pull up several other replays of letters from the trenches.)

Then again, Peter Watkins’ black and white “documentary” of the battle of Culloden is pretty much the only thing I remember from that period of time in my school History lessons! Maybe it’s the apparent authenticity of the medium that’s what engages me?;-)

Which is maybe why I like this Google Earth recreation of the Hudson bay plane crash so much:-)

Replays from the diarists also hit the blogsophere from time to time: Pepys diary for example. (I’m not sure if there’s a real-time/relative time replayable version of Anne Frank’s diary online somewhere?)

If I didn’t have way too much to do already, or if I had “independent means”, I think I’d be tempted to try to put together a “relative realtime re-player”, maybe chasing someone like 4iP for the funds (though we’re still chasing them for something else…), or trying to do a deal with various news archives…

Hmm, now there’s a thought – maybe the news media could extract a bit of value from their archives by allowing people to replay historical events in real time? How far back does the Guardian API search I wonder? Certainly, I think Google news has a historical news search… I’d be quite tempted to follow the “Operation Julie” trial from the 1970s in relative real time, I think, rather than just reading a book about it, for example.

There are several things that I think can add to the feeling of authenticity by replaying content in this way:

1) the chunk size – the material is chunked at a human scale; lots of us write (or at least read) 500 word articles, watch 30 minute programmes etc in one sitting; but we don’t tend to read a book in one go, or watch a 20 DVD hour box set on one go;

2) the delivery schedule follows a human time scale – it becomes real to us as the event play out on a human timescale, and one that we are comfortable with;

3) the replayed material is authentic, and was generated at the time of the actual events;

4) the opportunity to look back to future at events as they unfold in relative realtime, but with the added advantage of hindsight.

Are there any history educators out there already teaching in this way, I wonder?

Oh for more time to think about this sort of realitivity, but ‘real work’ beckons :-(


  1. Carla Federman

    Have you seen They just “tweeted” the Battle of Gettysburg in real time. I’m planning on doing something with my Cold War class (an elective for high school seniors) on the Cuban Missile Crisis – give each student one of the major players, and have them tweet what that person was saying/doing in real time in October.

  2. Perry Williams

    “Are there any history educators out there already teaching in this way, I wonder?”
    Well, yes, in the sense that narrating historical events in the present tense, without foreknowledge, is a well-established pedagogical device, and a staple of schools broadcasting in the UK since, oh, about 1924.
    It’s been less used in historical writing for adults, though my father Norman Lloyd Williams (the BBC’s head of schools radio during the 1960s) tried it in his Tudor London Visited, which narrates the tumultuous events in London over 1553-54, from the death of Edward VI, through the brief succession of Jane Gray to the coronation of Mary Tudor, during which the country narrowly escaped civil war. I read it in MS while he was writing it during the late 1970s and I was still at school – better than TV!

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