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 ( 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: 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.) (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:
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:

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).