Tuesday, 11 October 2011

Republican and other times again

Speaking of French Republican Time (below), Matthew Shaw tells me of an imminent symposium at the National Maritime Museum.

Matthew is the author of the fascinating thesis I mentioned. He has also published a book, Time and the French Revolution which I have not yet read but hope to soon. See it on Boydell and Brewer's website. They offer a Look Inside facility so you can see part of the book before buying.

French Republican clock

There are lots of pointless things you can do with Apple's iPad, but I was not expecting to find one so close to my interest in representing Time. It is French Revolutionary Clock by Miller Tinkerhess. It does very little – just displays a photographic image of a clock-face for a 10-hour day with the moving hands telling the correct time in Republican hours, minutes and seconds – but it does it well.

If you have an iPad dock, you can have a nice (expensive) Republican clock on your desk. Though not as expensive as buying a real survivor from the eighteenth century of course.

I mentioned the French Republican Calendar a couple of posts back. I am currently reading a fascinating PhD thesis on the subject, but more on that later.

The iPad clock is here.

Friday, 23 September 2011

The word 'timeline'

The Oxford English Dictionary defines time-line as:
  • a certificate of apprenticeship 
  • an undulating line indicating small fractions of a second, by which the time or rate of some process may be measured
  • a schedule, a deadline
The Dictionary’s earliest citation of a usage where time is arithmetically mapped to a surface or space is William James’ Principles of Psychology (1890). In his case, only one graphical component of the diagram is the time-line, rather than the whole design. Nevertheless it shows the key concept of events marked against a regular ‘clock’ of time, an idea fundamental to most of the examples discussed in my blog posts.
An early use of the word time-line in something like its present sense. The waves of the time-line here represent regular time intervals, while the reaction-line above it shows a pair of events. From p.86 of William James’ Principles of Psychology, Volume 1, 1890. Wellcome Library, London (http://images.wellcome.ac.uk/). Used with permission. Photo: Stephen Boyd Davis.
James, W. (1890), The Principles of Psychology. (2vols.) New York: Henry Holt. The whole book is online here: http://ebooks.adelaide.edu.au/j/james/william/index.html. The diagram appears in Chapter 3: On Some General Conditions of Brain-Activity
Oxford English Dictionary. (2011), ‘Timeline’ Online version June 2011 (Accessed 24 July 2011.) http://www.oed.com/ (subscription required).

Wednesday, 21 September 2011

French copy of Barbeu-Dubourg now online

Gallica, an excellent French national online resource, free to access, now has a digitised view of Barbeu-Dubourg's Chronographie, ou Description des tems ; contenant toute la suite des souverains de l'univers et des principaux événemens de chaque siècle... en trente-cinq planches.
You can view it here: http://gallica.bnf.fr/ark:/12148/bpt6k1314025.r=.langEN
Detail of the Bibliothèque Nationale copy of the Chronographie on Gallica.
The file, which can be downloaded as a PDF, comprises both the explanatory booklet and the 35 sheets of the timeline itself. Scrutiny reveals that this is not identical to the edition at Princeton. Clearly the Princeton copy is a slightly later edition: not only have additional entries been made, but some items, eg. Bolingbroke, have been relocated.
Detail of the Princeton copy of the Chronographie (photo Stephen Boyd Davis, used with permission, Princeton University Library Rare Books) 

Journal of Visual Culture review of Cartographies of Time

My review of Daniel Rosenberg and Anthony Grafton, Cartographies of Time: A History of the Timeline (Princeton Architectural Press, 2010. 272 pp. ISBN: 1-568987633) has been published in the Journal of Visual Culture.
A pre-print version of the review is here: http://eprints.mdx.ac.uk/8151/

The published version is here:
Journal of Visual Culture 2011 vol. 10 no. 2. 269-271
DOI: 10.1177/1470412911413187a
(purchase or subscription necessary)

Friday, 16 September 2011

Three issues in mapping Time to a line

I have just submitted an article to a design journal. It is concerned with just one topic: the mapping of time to a line. It is a plea for designers and others to take more seriously the following issues:

  1. If time is mapped to a line, on which axis of the graphic surface should it lie? And in which direction should later times lie in relation to earlier: what is the direction of travel? Is there a solution to these questions that is the most natural, the best - or simply right?
  2. How does time map to dimension; what model of time does such mapping presuppose? There is an indefinite number of possible mappings but, in practice, the principal options tend to be (1) strict linearity where equal space stands for equal time, (2) mathematically consistent non-linearity such as a logarithmic scale, usually giving more space to most recent time, (3) scaling which divides time into periods, each of which is linear but where the more recent periods are on a larger scale than those more distant. There are also examples of a more pragmatic approach, where the space allotted is adjusted to accommodate the density of events.
  3. Calibration. There are several reasons why different measures of time may be needed. One is to reflect the varied cultures of the users (see figure). Within a single culture there may be rival dating schemes because of differing scholarly opinion. And it may simply be useful to have more than one calibration of a chart, for example dates counted forwards from a point in history to our own time as well as dates counted backwards from the present day.

A bronze cannon cast in France in March/April 1795AD. Rather than using 'our' Gregorian calendar, it bears the French Republican date: month Germinal in Revolutionary Year 3. Neither at present, nor in history, is the Gregorian the only calendar. Photographed at St Michael’s Mount, Cornwall, UK, 2008. Photo: Stephen Boyd Davis.
As usual, I argue in the article that current thinking and practice is pretty rudimentary compared with the sophistication of early chronographers in the eighteenth century. Working through evidence that there are no right answers to the questions above, I propose some principles for approaching the questions and offer a research agenda.

If the article is published, it should come out some time next year. I'll put a few snippets from it here in the coming months, including a discussion of Nicole Oresme (c. 1320-5 - July 11, 1382) who may have been the first to draw time as a line.

Link: Wikipedia article on the French Republican Calendar (which also tells you what today's date is in that calendar).

Saturday, 2 April 2011

A short article for Joseph Priestley's US home

I contributed a two-page guest article as a supplement for the newsletter of the Friends of the Joseph Priestley House museum in Northumberland, Pennsylvania. Entitled The Man who Drew Time, it is intended as an introduction to Priestley’s chronographics for those completely unfamiliar with the area.

It can be downloaded from the museum page.
Or this is a direct link to the PDF file.

Priestley left England in 1794 as the authorities became increasing intolerant of his views. Soon after their arrival in Northumberland PA, he and his wife Mary began construction of a house on land overlooking the Susquehanna River. It was intended as the re-creation of a self-contained, English gentleman’s estate. Two years after their arrival in Northumberland, Mary died.

In 1961, the Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission was appointed to administer and restore many of the property's original features. In 2000, as an enhancement to the site’s historic landscape, the Commission completed reconstruction of outbuildings associated with the property during Priestley’s residency.

Tom Bresenhan, President of the Friends, with whom I have had the pleasure of corresponding, is overseeing the creation of a new exhibit about Priestley’s timelines at the museum.

Monday, 7 March 2011

Three primary texts now available

I have added another primary text: see new list of these, right.

Texts previously uploaded were:
Priestley, Joseph. 1778. Description of a Chart of Biography (main explanatory text). 7th edn. J. Johnson. London. This PDF file is a rough approximation of the first part of the original book. This file preserves the line-breaks and pagination, and roughly imitates the layout of the original. The original book of 1778 is my own copy.
Barbeu-Dubourg, Jacques. 1753. Chronography or Depiction of Time. Paris. Explanatory booklet for Chart. Original French (images only) and translation by Stephen Boyd Davis, assisted by Christine North, October 2009. From a photocopy in the Rare Books Collection, Princeton University Library (Call number: D11 .B372 1753a), taken from an original of the explanatory booklet held by the Bibliothèque Nationale, Paris.
The new text is:
Priestley, Joseph. 1764 and 1778. Description of a Chart of Biography (list of the c2000 names in the chart). 1st and 7th edn. J. Johnson. London. This PDF file is a rough approximation of the second part of Priestley’s Description (the first edition of 1764). It is an index to the 2000 individuals in the Chart of Biography itself. Annotations in grey within [square brackets] indicate differences between the 1764 and 1778 editions. They also indicate names which were in the 1764 addenda called Names omitted in the Catalogue. Each name is followed by a date – usually either d. (died) or fl. (flourished) – and one or more alphabetic indicators of the role of the individual. I will add Priestley’s introduction and explanation of these when I have time. Many entries take this form: Charles the Bald. d. 876. 53 – meaning that Charles the Bald died in 876 at the age of 53.

Monday, 21 February 2011

Johnson and Priestley

The fact that Joseph Johnson is featured on Wikipedia today prompts me to post a snippet that reflects Joseph Priestley’s optimism – sometimes verging on Dr Pangloss’s best of all possible worlds. Even the fire at Johnson’s works (see Wikipedia article) is turned into a benefit. In the later editions of his Description of a Chart of Biography, Priestley remarks:
“The plates in which the first copy of this chart was engraved having been melted down, in the fire at Mr. Johnson’s, A.D. 1769, it is now re-engraved, with considerable improvements ; and particularly, care has been taken to mark the terminations of the lines from the dates, upon the plate itself, without any intervening drawing ; by which means it is now much more accurately finished, than it was possible to do it, in the manner in which it was first done.”