Timelines Manual

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Timelines Manual

Contributor(s): THL Staff.


This database is intended to keep track of events, whether cultural or natural. Each event is given a descriptive title, is described (both with a summary and an extended description), is keyed to a time or period, is classified according to type, is keyed to place, and finally is classified according to cultural region. The classification allows one to extra various timelines from the database – such as a timeline of monastery foundings, or a database of events within a specific sectarian tradition, or of political timelines, and so forth. The following is a rough manual, and we welcome feedback at thdltools@virginia.edu.


We currently have an online version of the database - external link: THL Timeline Database - created by Matt Frost in February 2007 and still undergoing improvements. Please email Matt Frost at mwfrost@gmail.com with any questions or problems, or thdl@virginia.edu if you want to get an account. This database allows online editing if you have an account.

Previously, we only had a stand alone FileMakerPro version. Since it was not online, it was not good for facilitating collaborative work. However, it can be helpful when you are not online and want to compile data. We thus continue to provide access to it:

If you have FileMaker Pro 5 or more recent, follow one of these links to download the '.fp5' files:

If you do not have FileMaker Pro, follow one of these links to download a stand-alone application


There are several significant problems that make this task rather complex. Firstly, every piece of information needs to be documented in terms of sources, and especially all specifications of dates. Secondly, for historical events there may well be a great diversity of sources that specify different dates for a given event, requiring that each of these be recorded with their respective sources documented. This requires a normalized date to be specified, along with its rationale, in addition to the full list of dates found in the relevant historical records. Thirdly, this ambiguity of dates also means that there must be the flexibility to record ambiguity, such as the degree of certainty, temporal ranges of possibility, and so forth. Fourthly, historical sources do not use the present international calendar, but rather are based upon a variety of regional calendars. Thus these regional dates must be recorded, along with a specification of the relevant calendar, in addition to their conversion into a standard international date.

Field by field description

Event title

This provides a title to identify the event, which would appear in a tabular or timeline view of many events. In order to facilitate efficient use of the timelines, editors should follow standardized titles for comment events:

  • Birth of PERSONAL NAME
  • Death of PERSONAL NAME
  • Founding of INSTITUTION NAME…[monasteries,
  • Instituting of … lineage by ….:
  • Destruction of…
  • Renovation of…
  • Damage of…
  • Building of….
  • Conquest of…. by …: more definitive.
  • Defeat of…. by …: like local in battle.
  • Occupation of … by…:
  • Sacking of ….:
  • Revolt of ??? in PLACE NAME:
  • Translation of TEXT TITLE by PERSONAL NAME
  • Composition of TEXT TITLE by PERSONAL NAME
  • Revelation/Excavation of TEXT TITLE to/by PERSONAL NAME
  • BLANK invades BLANK
  • Flood/Earthquake/Fire/Epidemic/etc. in/at PLACE NAME:

Date start (normalized)

The normalized dates are those which the scholar making the entry has determined are the most accurate. When events are keyed to a point in time rather than a period with start and stop dates, then only the date start is specified. If the date end is left blank, it signifies that the date is a point rather than a duration.

Each international date has a “year”, “month” and “year” fields, which should each be filled out with the corresponding number. If one of these is not known, it should simply be left blank. Each also has a corresponding probablity field, which is a drop down list of P0, P1, P2, P3, P4. P0 (the default) signifies no comment; P1 signifies certainty, P2 signifies probability, P3 signifies moderate probability, P4 signifies low probability (i.e. its an educated guess).

To indicate a degree of probably, given the number followed without space by +/- XX, with XX indicating the number of years before and after the specified date that are possible. Thus 1450+/-10 would be 1440-1460. This should be used rather than such indications as “mid-12th century” and so forth.

When precise date ranges of possibility are known, simply specify them with two dates separated by a hyphen – for example, 1432-1456 means the year is somewhere within that range.

To indicate a degree of uncertainty of the beginning and end date of a range of possibilities, use question marks after the number – thus 1432?-1444 means that the date is no later than 1444, but you are unsure if 1432 is the earliest possible date on the other side.

Date end (normalized):

See above.


  • TBA

Normative date justification

This details why the author of the entry has chosen this date from among possibly multiple dates, and/or provides the sources and reasons for the probability attached to the specified dates. Place

This is currently a free text field but ultimately should really be a controlled field.

Event summary

Long description

This allows for a lengthier description of the event as desired.

Personal notes

This field allows for personal notes to be made which will not appear in a public view. It can thus be used as a workflow field.

Event Type

This provides a series of items which can be checked to the degree to which they classify the event in question. It requires a scheme such as “Birth,” “Death,” “Institution founded,” “War,” etc. We are trying to build up the scheme as we create entries, and then after stabilization of the scheme – keeping it as simple and shallow as possible, we will go back over in one swoop and fix all entries in accordance with the final scheme. The overarching types at present are as follows:

  • Life:
    • Birth
    • Death: self, other (parents, children, etc.)
    • Travel (i.e. someone arrives in Nepal, etc.)
    • Meetings
    • Position
    • Transmissions: teachings, inititations,
    • Marriage
    • Birth of children
    • Other (life)
  • Catastrophes
    • Flood
    • Fire
    • Earthquake
    • Storms: snow, rain, hail
    • Famine
    • Drought
    • Epidemic
    • Other (catastrophe)
  • Institutions: begin, end, renovation, other events
    • Monasteries
    • Rdzong
    • Hermitages
    • Other (institution)
  • Organizations: begin, end
    • Religious sects
    • Lineages
    • Other (organization)
  • Political: begin, end
    • Dynasties founded/ended
    • Leader's dates
    • Conflicts
    • Edicts
    • Land grants
    • Laws/legal codes
    • Alliances
    • Other (political)
  • Building
    • Bridge
    • Stupa
    • Temple
    • Other (building)
  • Cultural arts
    • Text composition: bka' 'gyurs
    • Printings
    • Translations
    • Revelations
    • Concealments
    • Statues
    • Murals/paintings
    • Rituals performed
    • Other (cult. arts)
  • Economy
    • Census
    • Tax collection
    • Monetary units introduced
    • Postal Service est.
    • Other (econ.)

Subject keywords

This provides the capacity to put in more specific associations of the event.

Timeline project

This marks the specific project to which an entry belongs. A project might be devoted to events in a given person’s life, or charting a sectarian group’s development, or whatever.


The options are high, intermediate, low. This allows one to specify how important a given event is, such that users can then choose the level of detail they want to see in a given timeline by viewing only events with high importance, or also intermediate importance events or finally all events by including those marked as having low importance as well. Thus one can have for any type of timeline or project, three views: an expansive, typical and condensed form. Thus for individuals, the most important historical personages will have “high” priority, and so forth.


This is a repeatable field for documenting sources in Tibetan literature or secondary literature which provide evidence for how to date the event in question.

  • Source:
  • Page/line:
  • Passage:
  • Passage translation:

Tibetan dates

  • Rabjung:
  • Element:
  • Animal:
  • Gender:
  • Month:
  • Day:
  • Calendrical system:
  • Time:

Provided for unrestricted use by the external link: Tibetan and Himalayan Library