About the Romantic Chronology

History of the Chronology
Technology of the Chronology

History of the Romantic Chronology

The first version of the Romantic Chronology originated in 1995-96, when the site consisted of a series of very large static HTML tables. This was the state of the technology in 1995, but new and more powerful technologies have since evolved. After a period of technical development, the Chronology moved in the summer of 1999 to a database that allows users to create dynamic, interactive views of its material over the Web. See Technology.

The Romantic Chronology began as a collaborative project between Alan Liu, Laura Mandell, and three graduate students in the English Department at U. California, Santa Barbara: Rita Raley, Carl Stahmer, and Vincent Willoughby (part of the Many Wolves authoring collective that pioneered humanites Web work at UCSB). In the mid 1990's, Mandell was editing a newsletter titled "New Romantic Canons in the Same Old Classrooms," which included the beginnings of a chronology of the period. This was part of her interest in the history and evolution of the literary canon. Liu, whose previous work had concentrated on the relation between Romanticism and cultural history, was working on a new book on the culture of contemporary information. He had recently started the Voice of the Shuttle: Web Page for Humanities Research and sought a Web project that could bring the periods of Romanticism and information culture into conjunction. Since his work on Romantic history had once required him to spend a month creating a room-size mural of dates and events decorated with an intricate array of cross-references (created with the technology of cardboard, paper, ink, scissors, tape, string, and pins), he saw in Mandell's chronology the perfect proving ground for the new hypertext medium.

The Romantic Chronology has grown substantially since its inception, and has benefited from the contributions of its Editorial Board and editorial assistants.

Technology of the Romantic Chronology

Until 1999, the Romantic Chronology existed as a series of very large static HTML tables (see example). This was the state of the art when the Chronology began in 1995 (see History), but the limitations of the approach rapidly became apparent. Additions and revisions to material had to be funneled through the editor who held the account on the server, and working with large HTML tables is a very complicated and slow process. In addition, subtle differences in the major Web browsers retarded the full potential of the large-table approach (in Netscape, it was not possible to return to one's position in a large table after following a link).

The Chronology is now a database-driven site that generates Web pages "on the fly." Developers use the Web to enter chronology events in a Filemaker Pro database that is "relationally" linked to a second database of annotated Web links. When a Chronology user requests a range of dates or chooses to search by date, author, work, topic, or any other field, the events database working on the server generates a customized Web page holding just the requested entries in the Chronology. The "detail" view for any event then includes automatically-generated relevant links created by the relational Web-link database. This is a very powerful model that affords the user a high degree of control. One can, for example, request a custom chronology that consists only of events combining the keywords, "Wordsworth" and "Napoleon" within a span of dates; and the resulting entries will have "detail" views that automatically include links related to Wordsworth, Napoleon, and so on. The model is also very powerful from the viewpoint of the developers, since it allows multiple editors to create, edit, and delete records in the database through a Web browser from whereever they are.

Database-driven Web sites (now also the major trend of commercial Web sites) put content into a database and then use a so-called "middleware" program (in this case the Web interface of Filemaker Pro) to move data dynamically between the database and the Web. Some of the other major middleware programs for this purpose--deployed by businesses that can afford the software and the technical expertise it requires--include Allaire's Coldfusion and Microsoft's NT server with ASP pages. Creating the means of transport between the database and the Web characteristially means writing special HTML Web pages that contain proprietary code designed to call interactively on the database.

The Romantic Chronology runs on a Microsoft Windows NT server running NT 4.0 with SP 4, the IIS Web server, and Claris Filemaker Pro 4.1 and its Web Companion. Web-authoring occurs in Macromedia's Dreamweaver 2.0, with the assistance of Claris Home Page (to initiate the process of creating Web pages that interact with Filemaker). Graphics work is done in Macromedia's Fireworks with occasional recourse to Adobe Photoshop.

Philosophy of the Romantic Chronology

(Jump to the editors' articles on the Philosophy of the Site)


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