Stepping Through Time With Accordance


The product featured in this post was provided for free in exchange for my honest review. No other expectations have been put on me except to offer my thoughts.

Snapshot of the Accordance Timeline, with the NT era highlighted.
When I think of how small a window in which the New Testament unfolds, it blows my mind.

Expanded Timeline Review

I love history. In fact, were I not a pastor I’d probably be teaching history somewhere, attempting to show students how cool it is. Even as a pastor, however, history has become a significant aspect of how I communicate the faith. When we allow ourselves to capture a glimpse of faith across both space and time we gain an appreciation for the amazing depth the Christian tradition holds.

And this is why I appreciate aids like the Accordance Timeline Expanded Edition.

I first purchased the Accordance timeline back in August of 2009, back in the stone ages when software came out on DVD’s 1. It arrived as part of the old Graphics Bundle, which included the Atlas and the Photo Library. All three items became regular parts of my teaching. But, perhaps because of my bent toward the field of history, the timeline became the tool I used the most. I could search for a name or event and both confirm what dates they appear and see the event or person against the backdrop of events in other regions. As a bonus, the timeline allowed for quick-switching between “conservative” and “critical” dates 2—this quick-switch feature helped me look out for different details commentaries brought up, giving me a better contextual understanding of the author’s viewpoint. Any point could be highlighted for a quick detail view, and triple-clicked to open to an appropriate resource. It was brilliant.

In the expanded edition, on sale through July 6 for $29.90 or an upgrade for $19.90, all the features I love from the earlier version have survived. Better, they’ve been improved.

The regional breadth has been expanded to span the entire globe. There are often scant entries in the regions less connected to the biblical story, but I hope these will be expanded in the future. The timeline’s length has also been expanded to present-day, which helps show the development of the faith beyond the Biblical period. The early theological disputes in the church, as well as key figures in the Patristic period, now appear in the module. Also, the date range for the various Biblical manuscripts, as well as other writings, appear on the timeline. Seeing the context for some of the most important manuscripts for Biblical scholars 3 was really cool. It was fun to see that Codex Sinaiticus was written only between 25 and 50 years after the Council of Nicea, and that Athanasius was alive when it was copied, for example 4. Points like this help me better imagine the world surrounding important events, and why people may have responded the way they did. The Council of Nicea took place in 325CE, for example, which my college still called “the Early Church.” And three centuries doesn’t seem like that long a time against the backdrop of history… but it’s also a century longer than the United States has been around. I mean, why don’t we call present-day USA, “the Early Republic?” Historic context can change one’s impression of history itself, and this is the value timelines bring to anyone interested in history.

But Accordance’s Expanded Timeline is more than just a list of names and dates with a brief synopsis attached. It is an Accordance module. Triple-clicking on an entry amplifies the search in an appropriate module or text and the timeline can be arranged in a workspace with other Accordance modules. Even better, Accordance’s speed is on full display. Pinch-zoom and two-finger swiping to scroll through thousands of years of global history is amazing.

I do, however, have some small critiques.

First is with the interface. The added regions are most welcome, and the sheer amount of entries in the Timeline is impressive 5. But zooming in and out of the timeline transforms many labels into abbreviations ending in an elipsis, indicating there is more to the text. If you zoom far enough out, the region names will actually disappear—which hinders their usefulness. I’d like to see if Accordance can scale the region name’s font size when a user is scrolling, or find a way to auto-expand the header column when it can no longer fit the text vertically. It’s a minor thing, but it would be helpful. This would be more difficult inside the timeline proper, as it would break defined title sizes for certain items, but finding a way to get rid of the need to hide an entry behind an elipsis would be a big plus.

I would love to be able to bring up the text entries found in the timeline as a regular text research tool and unleash Accordance’s full search capabilities on the data. The search dialog in the timeline window itself is helpful, but the parameters can be a bit constricting. There is a nice easter egg in the 1990’s, for example, which I knew was on the timeline 6—but when I searched for a fragment of its title the timeline returned no responses. I had to type it in from the beginning to get it to show up 7. For most things the search dialog in the timeline is more than enough, but there are some things where having more robust access to the data would be most helpful.

One of the most interesting features of the Timeline is the ability for users to add their own entries to the module—which can be helpful for both personal research and academic study. For the history nerd in me, this is the type of thing I drool over, but I did notice a few things which left me scratching my head.

Add user item dialog for the Accordance Timeline
The ability for users to add items to the timeline is valuable, but it needs some more polish to read its potential.

While user entries can have a Name, Alternate name, and dates—there is, at present, no way for a user entry to have a custom synopsis. This would be a killer feature, and I am told it’s being considered, because it would make user entries full equals to the “official” entries on the timeline. The ability to add links which would tag back to a data source would also be cool.

In the “Define User Items” dialog box, there is also a drop-down box for “sub-region.” I assumed the names in this box would change, depending on what Region is selected in the dialog, but it does not. Instead, the options are always “[None], 1, 2, 3, 4.” I like the idea of sub-regions for user entries, but numbers with no definitions are more obtuse than helpful. Also in this dialog is a selection box indicating a “from” region, which I asume refers to an origin point. This would be helpful for identifying a ruler’s background, or the source of a new theological movement or heresy. But I could only get this extra dialog to activate when my user item’s class was set to “Political.” I’d love to know why it’s greyed out so much, because I’d love to use it more.

And last, but not least, the Accordance Timeline 8 need to be available on iPadOS. The gesture based navigation is crying for a touch interface 9. Please, oh please, get this bumped up on the development map.

My critiques are minor, given the scope of what this module can do. I haven’t gone in to filtering layers or restricting what data sets are displayed, all of which happens with Accordance’s incredible speed. I didn’t cover the ability to make your own region sets to display, which tosses out information you may not be interested in for a particular search. And you never feel like you’re being forced to wait when using the timeline, and that’s a wonderful thing. You don’t fight the display, you surf through it.

If you are a student of history, and I believe Christians who want to understand their faith should be, the Accordance Timeline Expanded Edition is an excellent resource to have.

  1. I know, it sounds unbelievable. But it’s true. 
  2. For the record, I dislike these distinctions, as people have been conditioned to assign moral significance to each term, depending on their personal ideological bent. I get they are the accepted academic nomenclature, though, so this is just me venting. I’ll get over it. 
  3. And lay-folk as well. After all, these manuscripts have an impact on modern translations. 
  4. Yes. I’m a nerd. Any other questions? 
  5. And I’m sure they’re only going to grow. 
  6. Also, every release of Accordance is found in that section as well. After all, they are key moments in the history of the world. 
  7. Just typing, “We” brought it up, in fact. 
  8. And the Atlas as well. 
  9. Laugh it up, Windows users.