Saturday, 9 January 2010

Continuum: an interesting and complex timeline tool

I’ve just come across an unusually subtle timeline developed at Southampton University, UK, by Paul André, Max Wilson, Alistair Russell, Daniel Smith, Alisdair Owens and m schraefel.

Continuum, a Web2.0 application for visualising faceted temporal data, by Paul André, Max Wilson, Alistair Russell, Daniel Smith, Alisdair Owens and m schraefel of Southampton University. 

Among its many points of interest, sections of a timeline can be brought into close proximity so that relationships can be conveniently mapped, omitting the intervening time. In the illustration above, works by Bach are connected to performances by Glenn Gould.

On the right of the illustration can be seen sliders which control the level of detail of different facets of the data independently of one another. 

A video of the work can be seen here:

A paper about it is here:
Continuum: designing timelines for hierarchies, relationships and scale (2007)

André, P., Wilson, M. L., Russell, A., Smith, D. A., Owens, A., and schraefel, m. 2007. Continuum: designing timelines for hierarchies, relationships and scale. In Proceedings of the 20th Annual ACM Symposium on User interface Software and Technology (Newport, Rhode Island, USA, October 07 - 10, 2007). UIST '07. ACM, New York, NY, 101-110.

Sunday, 3 January 2010


Barbeu-Dubourg in 1753 and Joseph Priestley in 1765 both extolled the merits of uniform timescales for chronographics (which they effectively invented). In fact they presented one-sided arguments for this solution.

A number of aspects of eighteenth century culture reflect this commitment to uniformity.

Jethro Tull and the seed drill

A modern field sown with a seed drill. Uniform parallel rows stretch to the horizon. Copyright Tony Atkin and licensed for reuse under Creative Commons Licence
By this means also the Rows of the whole Field may be kept equidistant, and parallel to one another.   Tull 1762: 374
Jethro Tull was a pioneer of agricultural improvement. In 1701, he developed an improved design of horse-powered seed drill that planted seeds in parallel rows, and in 1714 a horse-drawn hoe for tending such crops. In 1731, he published Horse Hoeing Husbandry which promoted his new farming ideas. During the following century and a half, the seed drill was gradually adopted so that broadcast seed, thrown to the ground by hand, was replaced by regular lines of plants. It must have been extraordinary to see the natural random patterns of seedlings succeeded by uniform parallel rows.

Buildings and pavements

The Royal Crescent in Bath, UK, July 2006. Photo by David Iliff, from Wikipedia.

The eighteenth century saw a flowering of the urban terrace in cities such as Bath and Edinburgh. Though sometimes embellished with central porticoes and other architectural features, they were distinctive for their use of simple repetition and the equality of every unit in the façade. They emphasised the neo-classical ideals of ‘order, regularity, restraint, proportion and reason’ (Lee and Kelley, 1996: 48), though it has been suggested that ‘simplicity, austerity and regularity were as much solutions to economic problems as a selfconscious search for aesthetic effect’ (Ashworth 2005: 43).

Stone paving, perhaps laid in the eighteenth century, in Pearse Street, Dublin. Uniform paving was an eighteenth century innovation. From

Until the mid eighteenth-century in Britain it was the responsibility of individual householders to maintain the pavements in front of their property. Pavements were therefore of different heights, materials and quality. At the same period that Barbeu-Dubourg and Priestley were advocating a uniform scale to represent time, there was a shift to uniform paving funded through local taxation. For the first time, the pavement would have been the same along a single street (Cockayne 2007: 202-204).

The uniformity of time
The very idea of time that we now take for granted – a uniform empty structure which contains events – is of course a cultural construct. Newton, whom Priestley and many of his contemporaries revered, was an early advocate of such a model: 
Absolute, True, and Mathematical Time, of itself, and from its own nature flows equably without regard to anything external...     Newton 1687
Poole describes the shifting conception in this way:
The term ‘calendar’ became less likely to signify the whole cultural edifice and more likely to refer simply to the chronometrical framework.     Poole 1995: 100
This contrasts with the earlier ‘lumpish quality of time’ (Poole 1998: 23) in which ‘time was an uneven succession of periods of different qualities, a cluster of high points and low, rather than a steady stream of being’ (op cit: 21).

Gell (1992: 23 passim) warns that to even refer to a culture’s ‘model of time’ is to beg the question. A society may have a model of the relationship between events, between now and the past, the past and the future, etc., but not necessarily have a model of time per se.

Ashworth, Gregory J. 2005. The Georgian City: the Compact City as Idealised Past or Future Ideal. Global Built Environment Review 4(3). 40-53. 
Cockayne, Emily. 2007. Hubbub: filth, noise & stench in England 1600-1770. Yale University Press.
Gell, Alfred. 1992. The Anthropology of Time: cultural constructions of temporal maps and images.  Berg, Oxford
Newton, Isaac. 1687. Mathematical Principles of Natural Philosophy. Book 1. Scholium.
Lee, D. and Kelly, R. 1996. Georgian Limerick. FAS/ Limerick, Civic Trust.
Poole, Robert. 1995. ‘Give us our eleven days!’: calendar reform in eighteenth-century England. Past & Present 149(1). 95-139
Poole, Robert. 1998. Time’s Alteration: calendar reform in early modern England. London: UCL Press/Taylor & Francis. p23.
Tull, Jethro. 1762. Horse-Hoeing Husbandry or, an Essay on the Principles of Vegetation and Tillage. 4th edn. Millar, London. Available as PDF at