Detail map of Brooklyn, New York, United States Overview map of Brooklyn, New York, United States

A: Brooklyn, New York, United States

Daniel Rosenberg & Anthony Grafton Issue "Cartographies of Time: A History of the Timeline"


In 2010 American intellectual historians Daniel Rosenberg and Anthony Grafton issued Cartographies of Time through the Princeton Architectural Press in New York. A fully illustrated history of graphic visualization of time and timelines from circa 400 CE to the present, this beautifully designed and produced work is an authoritative contribution to the history of information graphics with respect to time. In writing this work the authors drew attention to an aspect of historical writing that is generally undervalued by historians:

"Another reason for the gap in our historical and theoretical understanding of timelines is the relatively low status that we generally grant to chronology as a kind of study. Though we use chronologies all the time, and could not do without them, we typically see them as only distillations of complex historical narratives and ideas. Chronologies work, and—as far as most people are concerned—that's enough. But, as we will show in this book, it wasn't always so; from the classical period to the Renaissance in Europe, chronology was among the most revered of scholarly pursuits. Indeed, in some respects, it held a status higher than the study of history itself. While history dealt in stories, chronology dealt in facts. Moreover, the facts of chronology had significant implications outside of the academic study of history. For Christians, getting chronology right was the key to many practical matters such as knowing when to cleebrate Easter and weightly ones such as knowing when the Apocalypse was nigh.

"Yet, as historian Hayden White has argued, despite the clear cultural importance of chronology, it has been difficult to induce Western historians to think of it as anything more than a rudimentary form of historiography. The traditional account of the birth of modern historical thinking traces a path from the enumerated (but not yet narrated) medieval date lists called annals, through the narrated (but not yet narrative) accounts called chronicles, to fully narrative forms of historiography that emerge with modernity itself. According to this account, for something to qualify as historiography, it is not enough that it 'deal in real, rather than merely imaginery, events; and it is not enough that [it represent] events in its order of discourse according to the chronological framework in which they originally occurred. The events must be...revealed as possessing a structure, an order of meaning, that they do not possess as mere sequence. Long thought of as 'mere sequences,' in our histories of history, chronologies have usually been left out.

"But, as White argues, there is nothing 'mere' in the problem of assembiing coherent chronologies nor their visual analogues. Like their modern successors, traditional chronographic forms performed both rote historical work and heavy conceptual lifting. They assembled, selected, and organized diverse bits of historical information in the form of dated lists. And the chronologies of a given period may tell us as much about its visions of past and future as do its historical narratives" (Rosenberg & Grafon p. 11).

Timeline Themes