Visualization Tips and Tools

While historians like to write, there are a variety of other ways to present history that can compliment essays, papers, and books. Let's look at a few of those. Photo Credit: (Emilio Gómez Fernández, CC BY-SA 3.0 <>, via Wikimedia Commons


Historians love maps. A good map can go a long way towards explaining something. While the paper map still has its appeal, digital mapping is a powerful way to explain history.

Google Maps are a great way to get started with digital mapping and thinking about GIS (geographic information systems).

Google Maps will do more than just give you directions. You can save maps, create maps, and more. Google has a tutorial for getting started.

When you are doing a project of any complexity, you should do more than just drop a pin and fill in the pop up box. If you have a lot of pins to drop, this would be laborious and unwieldy. Not the mention a great way to potentially mess up. The better approach is to save all your data in a Google Sheet and then us it to populate your map. See using Google Sheets to build a Google Map or Google Earth

Google Earth (Check out Historical Maps from Around the World on Google Earth)

Open Street Maps. (An open source alternative to Google Maps.)

Open Historical Maps

Freemium Mapping Tools

ArcGIS (This is the gold standard for doing GIS. The free online version is powerful, but no longer supported by the company.)



Penn State Libraries: Overview Historical Mapping

University of Washington Libraries: GIS for History - Historical GIS Online Resources

Charts and Graphs

If you want to create charts, graphs, or any other of visual representation of your work a good place to start is with a spread sheet. Below are links to Google's and Microsoft's tutorials, but if you do a search (Googling or Duck Duck Going) you will find many articles on how to do this.

Using Google Sheets

Using Microsoft Excel Check out Excel Quick and Simple Charts Tutorial.


Although historians often tell people that we don't just create chronologies, sometimes putting things in chronological order is really helpful.

Microsoft Office has a timeline tool that you can use with PowerPoint.

TimelineJS is an open source and widely used time line maker that works with Google Sheets. You can watch a tutorial from George Mason University here.

If you want more options, check out Christopher Pappas, Top 10 Free Timeline Creating Tools for Teachers

Other Resources

The Roy Rosenzweig Center for History and the New Media is a great resource and has created such tools as Tropy, Omeka, and Zotero (all mentioned in multiple places on this website)