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John Stricklin
Professor Sherrin Frances
English 212
8 March 2015
Western Timeline
Everyday approximately 757 million individuals use it (Protalinski). Every month 1.23
billion people read it, laugh at its content, interact with it, or contribute to the information and
data (Protalinski). Every month more individuals join the others and create one. What readily
captures our attention on a daily basis and binds individuals around the world who, most likely,
will never cross paths or meet? Facebook. Unlike the internet, Facebook, creates a more intimate
connection with individuals on a global level. People freely share their personal information,
interests, and opinions through text or photographs stamped with the date of occurrence. In turn,
this information becomes data for businesses looking to target a specific audience, employers
interested in potential new employees and individuals simply looking to learn more about others.
Now imagine if someone stated that Facebook originated in 1765 and the concept was
created by theologian and English scientist Joseph Priestley (Rosenberg and Grafton 19).
Moreover, every Facebook user has something in common with him. Many would agree that
these statements are false and undeniably absurd considering the fact that computers and the
internet were not yet invented. However, there is a justifiable truth to the statements mentioned.
In 1765, Joseph Priestley's the Chart of Biography was published and consisted of "a simple
measured field with dates indicated along the top and bottom like distances on a ruler" and the
horizontal lines led to important dates (Rosenberg and Grafton 19). Also known as, the first

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documented time map (Rosenberg and Grafton 19). Similarly, Facebook displays a timeline of
events based on information shared by each individual. However, people often overlook the
fundamental concepts and complexity of creating cartographies of space and time and the global
effects of the traditional Western linear timeline (Rosenberg and Grafton 10).
Today, the traditional Western linear timeline is seen in historical text books, classrooms
and even Facebook. This form of cartography is easily translated by historians, professors,
students, and those who use social media websites. Currently, most individuals are content with
their functionality and do not question its concepts. Although they are easily understood and
using them seems intuitive, they have not always existed (Rosenberg and Grafton 10). In fact,
linear time maps are only 250 years old (Rosenberg and Grafton 14). Rosenberg and Grafton
argue, "While historical texts have long been subject to critical analysis, the formal and historical
problems posed by graphic representations of time have largely been ignored" (10). They
perceive it to be an issue because graphic representations of time play an important role in
displaying and organizing information (Rosenberg and Grafton 10). It is important that
previously used methods to visually represent time be studied and analyzed. The reason which
our current western timeline is popular needs to be studied and understood. Furthermore, it
should be called into question. For example, is the western timeline truly the best method of
displaying our history or life events?
Rosenberg and Grafton mention that the linear timeline "was the first chart to present a
complete and fully theorized visual vocabularyand the first to compete with the matrix as a
normative structure for representing regular chronology" (19). In other words, it was practical
and easily translated the progress of history into a visual medium compared to current methods
used, such as, lists, tables, columns, and texts. (Rosenberg and Grafton 15, 16). However, Joseph

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Priestley did identify some problems with the linear timeline. Priestley argued that history is not
linear, in fact, it moves back and forth, can make comparisons and contrasts, and underlying
subplots to the plots (Rosenberg and Grafton 19). Additionally, he mentioned that the matrix had
its advantages. It facilitates the scholar's comprehension of the various overlapping lines of
history (Rosenberg and Grafton 20). On the other hand, the timeline displays patterns and the big
picture is quickly identifiable which has its advantages, but it is not ideal for every situation
(Rosenberg and Grafton 20).
The western timeline can be seen across the world. This could be a result of technological
advances stemming from predominantly English speaking western countries. Therefore, there
could be concern as to our western views are being pushed onto other cultures. A study done in
the Amazon proved that "the mapping of numbers onto space is fundamental to measurement and
to mathematics" (Dehaene, Izard, Spelke, and Pica 1217). They researched whether "mapping is
a cultural invention or a universal intuition shared by all humans regardless of culture and
education" (Dehaene, Izard, Spelke, and Pica 1217). The study was done on an Amazonian
indigene group of all ages who had little or no formal education and no means of access to
western technologies (Dehaene, Izard, Spelke, and Pica 1217). They were asked questions about
number-space mappings. They found that the Mundurucu people mapped their information with
symbolic and non-symbolic numbers into a logarithmic scale. Meanwhile, western adults used
the linear timeline with small, symbolic number. Western adults also used also used "linear
mapping with small or symbolic numbers and logarithmic mapping when numbers were
presented non-symbolically under conditions that discouraged counting" (Dehaene, Izard,
Spelke, and Pica 1219). This study proved that the mapping of numbers can be considered a
universal intuition. (Dehaene, Izard, Spelke, and Pica 1219). Also, the concept of a linear

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timeline is a cultural invention that will fail to develop if the individual lacks a formal education.
(Dehaene, Izard, Spelke, and Pica 1218).
The use of the western timeline can be technically considered a universal intuitive
concept. However, with this knowledge we can break out of our fundamental concepts and
pursue other forms to display data. Society should be promoting the creation of other views of
cartographies of time considering we have the tools and knowledge to do it.
In conclusion, linear maps play an important role in our daily lives. However, society
should consider creating other visual representations to display time and space based on how
they want the information portrayed. Although, the western linear timeline is functional and
easily translated it should not prevent us from exploring other visual structures or mediums.

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Works Cited
Dehaene, Izard, Spelke, and Pica. "Log or Linear? Distinct Intuitions of the number Scale in
Western and Amazonian Indigene Cultures." Science. 30 May 2008. Web. 29 Feb. 2015.
Lima, Manuel. Visual Complexity : Mapping Patterns of Information. New York, NY, USA:
Princeton Architectural Press, 2011. ProQuest ebrary. Web. 8 March 2015.
McCandless, David. "The Beauty of Data Visualization." Online video clip. TED. TED, Jul.
2010. Web. 22 Feb. 2010.
Protalinski, Emil. "Facebook Passes 1.23 Billion Monthly Active Users, 945 Million Mobile
Users, and 757 Million Daily Users." The Next Web, 29 Jan. 2014.Web. 29 Feb. 2015.
Rosenberg, Daniel, and Anthony Grafton. Cartographies of Time. New York: Princeton
Architectural, 2010. Print.