Petrarch Timeline

Petrarch’s Timeline: the project

Our project focused on the creation of two different timelines that might eventually be incorporated into the Petrarchive project. The first timeline is focused on Petrarch’s biography: events in his life, his education, his writings and frequent travels. The second timeline is focused on the history of the Rerum Vulgarium Fragmenta, starting from the partial holograph Vaticano Latino 3195 and continuing with its manuscripts and early printed editions.

The Petrarchive: an overview

The Petrarchive project is a digital rich-text edition of Petrarch’s song book Rerum Vulgarium Fragmenta. The edition is based on the partial holograph of the work Vaticano Latino 3195 copied by the professional scribe Giovanni Malpaghini and completed by Petrarch himself. Many critics agree that the poet was still working on the manuscript at the time of his death.  

The two editors of the Petrarchive project, Professor Wayne Storey and Professor John Walsh, have worked on six textual prototypes which show Petrarch’s visual poetics and will serve as a starting point for the encoding of the rest of the manuscript chartae.  


We initially explored three possible timeline tools for our project: Timeline JS, TimeMapper, and Neatline. After a few discussions on the topic, we decided to opt for Time Mapper for simple reasons:

  1. we found it straightforward and easy to use

  2. it seems easily publishable on the web

  3. we thought that, especially regarding Petrarch’s life, it would have been a “plus” for our timeline to visualize his geographic movements and the life of the text by including them in an interactive map

TimeMapper is a tool for creating interactive timelines:

  • “User level: beginner to intermediate. TimeMapper creates timelines from Google Spreadsheets. Taking advantage of TimeMapper’s mapping features requires some understanding of geocoding.”

  • “Requirements: a Google Drive account.” (Create timelines with open-source tools)

TimeMapper website provides a useful Tutorial video which guides the user step by step in creating a new timeline:

Make a TimeMap

NeatLine, a tool that allows users to create interactive historical maps, would have provided the most ideal framework for the historical information we wished to convey. Whereas TimeMapper only accommodates the current world map, NeatLine allows the users to overlay a historical map, which would have been more appropriate for conveying Petrarch’s movements in the 14th century. The majority of the Petrarch data recorded his travels, which overwhelmed the remaining entries on his writing or important life events. NeatLine would have allowed us to annotate the map with his movements, leaving the timeline free to highlight other biographical details.

Unfortunately, NeatLine required an advanced knowledge of coding. NeatLine arranges the information in an Omeka collection to generate the map and timeline. Omeka is a content management software that uses PHP, a web programming language. We did not have any prior experiences using PHP or Omeka, and would have needed a considerable amount of time to understand the tools before creating our timeline.

The Project:

Step 1: collecting the data

During the preliminary steps of our Petrarch’s timeline project we focused on collecting the data for the two timelines that we were planning to create. We used as a reliable source Dotti’s 1996 edition of the Rerum Vulgarium Fragmenta and in particular its introductory apparatuses.

As this source is in Italian, we initially created an detailed English translation of Petrarch’s biography. In the second phase we narrowed it down in order to create a more manageable data set, resulting in 39 entries.

As for the life of the Rerum Vulgarium Fragmenta, we used different sources (among which Dotti 1996, Wilkins 1951 and Belloni, Brugnolo, Storey, Zamponi 2003) to try to have a list of the most important manuscripts and printed editions of the text.

Petrarca, Francesco, and Ugo Dotti. Canzoniere / Francesco Petrarca; Edizione Commentata A Cura. Di Ugo Dotti. n.p.: Roma : Donzelli, 1996.

G. Belloni, F. Brugnolo, H. W. Storey, and S. Zamponi, eds. 2003. Francesco Petrarca. Rerum vulgarium fragmenta: Facsimile del codice autografo Vaticano Latino 3195. Città del Vaticano and Padova: Biblioteca Apostolica Vaticana and Antenore.

E. H. Wilkins. 1951. The making of the “Canzoniere” and other Petrarchan studies. Roma: Edizioni di Storia e letteratura.

Step 2: creating the two timeline spreadsheets

TimeMapper generates the timeline from a Google spreadsheet, based on a template that can be accessed from their website. After creating the data set we created two spreadsheets for the two timelines. We shared all the documents (including the spreadsheets) on Google Drive so that we could all work together on the same files.

Step 3: completing the collection of data and the timelines

While working on filling up the two spreadsheets, we kept researching the data set, especially looking for additional elements to incorporate in the timeline (e.g. pictures). We uploaded the spreadsheet to the TimeMapper website to generate the timeline, then worked to troubleshoot any issues, such as images not appearing due to inaccessible links.

Step 4: creating the website and incorporating the two timelines

Finally, we created a website using Google Sites, wrote a brief rationale of our work and embedded the timelines on two different sub-pages.

Issues and future perspectives

TimeMapper issue: one issue we found with TimeMapper is that it seems unable to incorporate the two timelines as originally intended. As a result we decided to create two different timelines.

Image issues: as part of an educational project we decided to include images found on the web, always giving credit to the different sources. The issue of copyright will be faced later if the timelines will be incorporated in the Petrarchive project and will potentially affect the presence of some of these pictures.

Issues with the “Life of the Rvf” timeline: this part of the work needs to be further developed. It will in fact need more time for a more detailed research on the genesis of the text and on the dating of some of the early manuscripts (this is still an open issue in the field of studies of the Fragmenta).

Future perspectives: this project was meant to be a starting point and an example of how the timeline will look like in the future if it will be incorporated in the Petrarchive project. We used the time we had at our disposition to create a visual example of what could be done and suggest methods of improvement as more time and work is dedicated to the timelines. We also thought, as a future project, that a third timeline on the cultural history of Petrarch’s times could be useful to relate the poet’s life and work to other important events of those years.