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.

Note: An ear­li­er ver­sion of this post appeared on our site in 2015.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

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

Down­load 67,000 His­toric Maps (in High Res­o­lu­tion) from the Won­der­ful David Rum­sey Map Col­lec­tion

Oculi Mun­di: A Beau­ti­ful Online Archive of 130 Ancient Maps, Atlases & Globes

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.

by | Permalink | Comments (2) |

Sup­port Open Cul­ture

We’re hop­ing to rely on our loy­al read­ers rather than errat­ic ads. To sup­port Open Cul­ture’s edu­ca­tion­al mis­sion, please con­sid­er mak­ing a dona­tion. We accept Pay­Pal, Ven­mo (@openculture), Patre­on and Cryp­to! Please find all options here. We thank you!

Leave a Reply

Open Culture was founded by Dan Colman.