There's nothing wrong with a timeline as long as we don't confuse it with real life or real history. A list of historical events that happened to happen at the same time as our ancestors were going about their business may not be helpful or relevant. Here are some resources I came across recently that go beyond timelines:
- The J. Paul Getty Trust has made some 4689 high-resolution images available as part of its new Open Content Program -- "free to use, modify, and adapt for any purpose," including the above portrait of three unknown women circa 1849. There is a short questionnaire accompanying each download. Some downloads are quite large. Click on "View Record" for a given image to see if it can be used under this program. The images can be browsed in many different ways; 2929 are from Europe, 92 from the United States.
- Close-up social history -- not free. Two books I recently heard about show promise if you happen to be deep into Athens, Georgia, between 1830 and 1870, or life around the Willow Run bomber plant in exurban Detroit during WW2.
- Internet Scout notes that the University of Chicago has on-line maps of 18 Midwestern cities from Omaha to Cincinnati, mostly of zoning in the 1920s -- a possible supplement to Sanborn maps for urban context.
Photo caption information: Unknown maker, American, daguerreotypist, Portrait of Three Women, about 1849, daguerreotype (1/4 plate Image: 6.7 x 8.4 cm [2 5/8 x 3 5/16 in.] Plate: 7.9 x 9.9 cm [3 1/16 x 3 15/16 in.] Mat: 8.3 x 10 cm [3 1/4 x 3 15/16 in.]); The J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles.
Michael Gagnon, Transition to an Industrial South: Athens, Georgia, 1830-1870 (Baton Rouge, LA: Louisiana State University Press, 2012), reviewed at EH.net by John Majewski.
Sara Jo Peterson, Planning the Home Front: Building Bombers and Communities at Willow Run (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2013).
University of Chicago Library, "Planning Maps of Midwestern Cities in the 1920s and 1930s" (http://www.lib.uchicago.edu/e/collections/maps/midwest/ : viewed 13 August 2013).
Harold Henderson, "Historical context: timelines are only the beginning," Midwestern Microhistory: A Genealogy Blog, posted 14 August 2013 (http://midwesternmicrohistory.blogspot.com : viewed [date]). [Please feel free to link to the specific post if you prefer.]