Tuesday, 22 December 2009

Immersion in history - 1

One obvious aspect of chronographics is that they are designed to provide overview or perspective – to produce an objectivising effect. Priestley wrote:
TIME is continually suggested to us, by the view of this chart, under the idea of a river, flowing uniformly on, without beginning or end. [...] IF we compare the lives of men with that portion of it which this chart represents, they are little more than so many small straws swimming on the surface of this immense river, strongly expressing the admirable propriety of those lines of Dr. Watts, concerning the eternity of GOD.
While, like a tide, our minutes flow,
The present and the past ;
HE fills his own eternal NOW.
And sees our ages waste.
Priestley, Joseph. 1764. Description of a Chart of Biography. J. Johnson, London. p26.

A less obvious potentiality is to create a sense of immersion in the moment. Priestley described it like this:
IT is a peculiar kind of pleasure we receive, from such a view as this chart exhibits, of a great man, such as Sir Isaac Newton, seated, as it were, in the circle of his friends and illustrious cotemporaries. We see at once with whom he was capable of holding conversation, and in a manner (from the distinct view of their respective ages) upon what terms they might converse.
Op cit. p24.

This is one of the strongest features of the Machine Chronographique of Barbeu-Dubourg. He writes of his invention as...
...a moving, living tableau, through which pass in review all the ages of the world, where each famous figure steps forth in his rank with the attributes belonging to him, where each Prince is surrounded by his contemporaries and occupies the scene for more or less time according to the duration of his role, where the rise and fall of Empires are acted out in visible form...
Barbeu-Dubourg, Jacques. 1753. Chronographie, ou description des temps…. Paris. Photocopy in the Rare Books Collection, Princeton University Library, from an original of the explanatory booklet for the chart (q.v.) in the Bibliothèque Nationale, Paris. Princeton University Library call number: D11 .B372 1753a. p8
And again...
Do you wish to look next through the entire Chart? First you find God alone before all time; then you see Adam appear, and at once the sequence of the centuries, in which all the years are marked out...
Op cit. p13

Here the sense of history as immersive experience is uppermost. More on this in future posts.

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