This paper explores the ways in which the quantitative literature on the onset of violent conflict deals with the passage of time. We argue that current approaches are insufficient for dealing with the methodological challenges raised by this issue. In particular, we argue that quantitative innovations have focused on resolving problems of 'relative time', relating a given year observation to previous year observation within a single case. But this has not addressed the more problematic epistemological question about the passage of absolute time. The paper suggests a number of routes towards addressing this problem.