Friday, February 18, 2011


Almost immediately upon my arrival here at CC, discussions began about what sort of Press project could be done with the Cultures of the Book FYE. The class had run before, in a slightly different incarnation (as just a Western history of the book) and the students had made, of course, a small (and very beautiful) book based on research that they had done in class. As we brainstormed ideas for the project this time around, someone (I think it was Steve Lawson) suggested doing some sort of map. We decided to go with that.

Shortly after that a friend of mine told me about a book called Cartographies of Time, which was a history of graphic representations of time. Intrigued, I got a copy through the library here (I love being a library employee) and after flipping through the book I discovered the image below:

Here is the background info, from Cartographies of Time:

[…] In the second half of the seventeenth century, as the possibility of fixing the Creation, the Flood, and the founding of Rome to rigorously established dates seemed to recede, some chronologers transferred their ingenuity entirely to the pedagogical part of their enterprise: to fixing the traditional set of dates that schoolboys had to master to images so memorable that they would become unforgettable. Johannes Buno […] devoted himself for half a century to devising textbooks that wrapped the standard narrative of ancient and medieval history in striking images and coded cues to short texts. History, he explained, was a vast ocean, and the student needed proper navigational equipment in order to avoid shipwreck. Ideally, he explained, the student would memorize “the whole order of time, as it were, reduced into a single body and set out in particular periods or segments, and whenever important events were mentioned, he would immediately be able to work out to which period or segment they belong.”
Buno had just the graphic tools for the job. For the four millennia that stretched between the Creation, in 4004 BCE, and the coming of Jesus, he found four comprehensive images: an eagle, a set of planks, a camel, and a dragon. Each image summed up a vital aspect of the millennium it stood for (the planks, for example, referred to Noah’s ark, and the camel to the camels on which the Jews made their Exodus from Egypt). But each also provided a vivid, memorable background, on which Buno placed images of important men and women. […] [1]

Here are some more examples of Buno’s images, also from Cartographies of Time:

The dragon was a particularly resonant image, because it is important to both Eastern and Western cultures, though it has very different meanings in each. The next questions were structural: how could the project be organized so that it could connect with the interests of every student? How could it be built textually and graphically for each student to play an equal role in the production of the final piece? The solution that we arrived at was this: the map would fold into segments, creating “natural” divisions of the image similar to the numbered sub-sections of the historic dragon image. The students would work in pairs, and each pair would get one section to fill. Each group chose a subject covered in class that they wanted to explore in more depth. They did research and gathered information, constructing mini-narratives of different events, personages, and institutions throughout history.

Then they needed to figure out a way to graphically represent those narratives. Their images would be printed on one side of the map, and the text they wrote (and set) would be printed on the other side, directly behind their image. But how were we going to bring all of these different images, and styles of images, together?

1. Anthony Grafton and Daniel Rosenberg, Cartographies of Time (New York: Princeton Architectural Press, 2010), 89 – 93.

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