Monday, 31 August 2009

The First Modern Timeline?

Joseph Priestley's Chart of Biography was not the first modern timeline to be published.

In 1753 appeared the first – the only – chronographic publication of Frenchman Jacques Barbeu Du Bourg. By gluing multiple sheets of paper together edge to edge, he produced a continuous engraved chart 16.5 metres (54 feet) long. This originally cost 12 livres. Princeton University library has a rare, perhaps unique, superior version of the chart, which is mounted on rollers in a wood and papier mache case and can be scrolled back and forth, allowing the user to see all of history since the beginning of time down to 1760. This cost 15 or 18 livres - presumably there was a standard and a de luxe case.

Barbeu Du Bourg was not alone at that time in envying the visual appeal of Geography, which was contrasted with the dryness of dates and names in chronology. In proposing his Carte Chronographique, he wrote:
Geography has as its object the extent of the earth; Chronology has as its object the succession of time. May not duration be imitated and represented as effectively to the senses, as distinctly as space, and may not intervals of time be as easily counted in degrees? What impediment is there: it is quite as easy to measure years as to measure places, in fact simpler and more easily done in several respects.
Chronographie, ou, Description des tems. Paris : Barbeu Dubourg, Lamote, Fleury, 1753. My translation.
A digitised rather rough photocopy of the descriptive booklet can be found here (PDF file, 1.3MB).

A good article on this timeline, written by Stephen Ferguson, Curator of Rare Books at Princeton, is here (PDF file, 4MB).

A high resolution image of the case containing the timeline is here (JPG file, 13.5MB).

Images: Rare Book Division, Department of Rare Books and Special Collections, Princeton University Library. Full versions of these images can be found under the entry for Call No. D11 .B37 1753 on the Princeton library site here.

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