Chronology: Time, Continuity & Change

Instructor: Nate Sullivan

Nate Sullivan holds a M.A. in History and a M.Ed. He is an adjunct history professor, middle school history teacher, and freelance writer.

In this lesson we will learn about chronology as it relates to the discipline of history. We will learn how time, continuity, and change affect the flow of history.

What is Chronology?

Today we are going to learn about a big word called chronology. Chronology is the sequence in which events take place. To understand this better, let's look at Tim's morning routine. First Tim wakes up; then he brushes his teeth and gets dressed; after that he eats breakfast; then he gets on the school bus; then he has 1st period class. This is the sequence of events for Tim's morning. This is an example of chronology.

Let's look at another one. In American history, first the colonists fought a war called the Revolutionary War so that America could become a free country; then they fought another war called the War of 1812; years later the Civil War was fought; and after that World War I; and after that World War II. These wars happened in chronological order. They happened in the order from first to last, or from the farthest in the past to the most recent. If we arrange things chronologically it means we arrange them from the first to the last.

This timeline from 1765 traces the chronology of empires throughout history.


Chronology is a super important part of history. When we study history, we usually study it in chronological order. Measuring time is another very important part of history. We measure our time in days, weeks, months, and years.

When we look at the big picture of history we divide it into two parts: B.C. and A.D. Some of you may know that B.C. stands for 'Before Christ,' while A.D. stands for the Latin phrase 'anno Domini,' which means 'In the year of our Lord.' The birth of Jesus Christ marks the separation of these two periods. So if you read that something happened in 200 B.C., you know that it happened 200 years before the birth of Christ.

Sometimes these two periods are also referred to as B.C.E, which stands for 'Before the Common Era,' and C.E., which stands for 'Common Era.'


What is continuity? Continuity refers to the continuance of themes over time, or similarities over time. For example, in the 1800s there was conflict between those who had money and those who didn't, and in the 1900s there was yet another conflict between those who had money and those who did not. This is a continuity.

Here is another one: in the 1920s there were laws about driving automobiles; in the 1990s there are also laws about driving automobiles. The automobiles changed a lot between those times, but there are many continuities.

History is filled with continuities. Technology changes and cultures change, but human nature remains constant. That said, there are many continuities. This is what people mean when they say 'history repeats itself.' It really doesn't repeat itself, of course, but there are patterns or continuities that make it appear like the same type of thing is happening again.

The automobile has changed much over time, but there are still many continuities between early and modern automobiles.

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