6,000 Years of History Visualized in a 23-Foot-Long Timeline of World History, Created in 1871

adam and eve map

A beautiful early example of visualizing the flow of history, Sebastian C. Adams’ Synchronological Chart of Universal History outlines the evolution of mankind from Adam and Eve to 1871, the year of its first edition.

A recreation can be found and closely examined at the David Rumsey Map Collection, which allows you to zoom in on any part of the original timeline, which stretched to 23 feet in length and was designed for schoolhouses as a one-stop shop for all of history.

jesus map

As Daniel Rosenberg and Anthony Grafton describe it in their book Cartographies of Time:

The Synchronological Chart is a great work of outsider thinking and a template for autodidact study; it attempts to rise above the station of a mere historical summary and to draw a picture of history rich enough to serve as a textbook in itself.

Adams was a voracious reader and a good Christian, and in the top half of the chart he attempts to untangle the spaghetti-like genealogy of Adam and Eve’s children from Abel (“The First Martyr”) through to Solomon (whose temple looks very Gothic), all the way through to Jesus and beyond. At the same time he presents a detailed description of archaeological history “after the flood,” from Stone Age tools through the earliest civilizations, mentioning major battles, inventions, philosophers, and advances in science. Adams’ starting date of all history comes from the Irish Archbishop James Ussher, who, in 1654 declared after years of study that the earth was created on “nightfall on 22 October 4004 BC.” (Now that’s certainty!)

egypt map

The map is colorful and filled with beautiful illustrations from the self-taught Adams, from a drawing of Nebuchadnezzar’s Dream to the current world leaders and a list of United States Presidents up to James Garfield. There’s even a section at the far end for “Eminent Men not elsewhere mentioned on the Chart,” the sign of a true completist (except for the part where he leaves out women).

rome map

Adams lived far from the epicenters of American education. He grew up in a Presbyterian family in Ohio, and, when he showed a skill for teaching later in life, he made the trek out west, nearly dying on the Oregon Trail. He settled in Salem, Oregon and began teaching while also working on his chart. When it was ready to print, he traveled back to Cincinnati to hire the esteemed lithographers Strobridge & Co., who published Civil War scenes, maps, and circus posters. Initially he sold the chart himself, but its popularity led to several American and British printers producing copies into the 20th century. Even Horror writer H.P. Lovecraft owned a copy.

presidents map

It remains a riotous work of art, history, religion, and self-determination, and facsimiles can still be purchased online. Adams later left teaching to become president of an insurance company, and died of “la grippe” (i.e. the flu) in 1898.

via Kottke

Related content:

New York Public Library Puts 20,000 Hi-Res Maps Online & Makes Them Free to Download and Use

An Interactive Map of Odysseus’ 10-Year Journey in Homer’s Odyssey

5-Minute Animation Maps 2,600 Years of Western Cultural History

Ted Mills is a freelance writer on the arts who currently hosts the FunkZone Podcast. You can also follow him on Twitter at @tedmills, read his other arts writing at tedmills.com and/or watch his films here.


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  • Bill W. says:

    The Bishop James Ussher is the WORST thing that ever happened to Christianity. Thanks to him, uninformed Radical Christians and atheists alike think that the Bible mentions the Earth is 6,000 years old, that cavemen co-existed with dinosaurs, and that Jesus’s return can be predicted! It does not, in fact, the OT book Ezekiel even makes the crazy assumption that the Earth is round…

  • Bonnie B says:

    It seems that Bishop James usher and his work can be summed up with the scripture found in
    II Timothy 3:7 Ever learning but never coming to the knowledge of the truth . Leading captive silly women and men and all those that will follow his work blindly without researching the historical facts concerning scripture

  • Wow says:

    Wow! If there is a God (and I believe there is), and God is able to be the God who organizes the universe (including creating it), then why can’t God have created the universe in 6 days using God’s spoken word?
    Each of us is one person in almost 7 billion. And yet, we are tempted to think that if one person is unable to create a universe and organize it, then God who we are created in the image of, is also unable to create a universe and do it the way that God is capable of doing it.
    I am not sure that I could trust such a small God for my eternal life.
    As for research, I assure you that James Ussher has accomplished sufficient research to his claim that extends beyond his detractors, having been a student of history, archeology and evolutionary theory).

  • Kyle Smith says:

    Im a truth seeker and id like to share wisdom together!? Its not just what and who you know. Its about what we together do with it in the community! Spead the light! Truth!!

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