Timelines are a linear sequence of events that historians use as a tool to navigate the past and understand what happened. Often, history is equated with what happened when. What happened is often seen as the most reliable historical fact, yet this does not take into consideration that historians participate in determining the importance of events, and choosing from them what to document and what to exclude.

So, how do timelines help us understand the past? What does this tell us about history and the objectivity of factual chronology? 


  • Gain more knowledge about the chronology of the Civil War in Lebanon 
  • Understand the value and reliability of timelines as historical tools

Time and Materials

90 mins

  • A4 papers 
  • Floor space or wall space to spread out or post up timelines 
  • Markers (different colors)


Warm-up (15 minutes):

We ask participants to think together of a major recent event known by all (such as the Covid-19 pandemic). We spend 10 minutes identifying together incidents that make up that period of time: beginning, highest points, turning points, different phases. We collect different suggestions and highlight similarities and differences.  

We conclude with the participants that this is the beginning of the creation of a timeline, which historians use as a tool, a form of chronological reasoning, to approach and make sense of the past. 


Group Work (45 minutes):

We divide participants into 3 groups and distribute Handout 11: Abridged Timelines. We assign each group one of the three timelines (BBC, AUB, Al-Jazeera). In each group, participants work together and write timeline entries including the date and the event on separate blank A4 papers. 

When finished, participants chronologically organize the events on the floor of the room or on an empty wall starting from earliest to the most recent date.

While navigating the timelines, we ask the participants to think about the following:

  • Events common to the three timelines, and events specific to each timeline
  • The time period when there were a lot of events, and when the timeline seemed empty
  • Facts and points of views present in the timelines

All three timelines should be lined up next to each other for visual comparison. 


Plenary Discussion (30 minutes):

For a few minutes, we walk around and compare timelines. 

We open up a discussion about the value and reliability of timelines as sources of historical information. 

Guiding Questions:

  • What impressions and emotions do you have regarding timelines during this session?
  • What did you notice while walking around the timelines? Based on the things we asked you to think about?
  • How can we differentiate between facts and perspectives on a timeline?
  • What can a timeline tell us about the perspective of the author/publisher of the timeline based on the events included? What do these timelines tell us about the selectivity of facts? 
  • How does clustering events/years into periods (periodization) change our understanding of past events?
  • Does using three or more timelines, instead of one, change our understanding of the past? How?
  • What is the difference between using the timeline tool versus using the conflict lens to look at the Lebanese Civil War (or any contested history)?

At the end, we encourage participants to walk through the timelines and chat with other participants about something new they learned today about the Lebanese Civil War.

We distribute Handout 12: The Historiography and the Memory of the Lebanese Civil War as a resource for later reading.

Notes and Tips for the Facilitator

Sources and Further Reading

Haugbolle, Sune. “The Historiography and the Memory of the Lebanese Civil War, Mass Violence & Resistance.” SciencePo (25 October 2011).

“Lebanon Profile – Timeline.”, 25 April, 2018.

“Timeline: Major Events of the Lebanese Civil War (1975-1990).” Lebanese Civil War: 1975-1990, University Libraries, American University of Beirut.

“Timeline: Lebanon; A Chronology of Key Events in Lebanese History.” (4 June, 2009).

Wenger, Martha. “Primer: Lebanon’s 15-Year War,” The Middle East Report 162 (January/February 1990).