The Vault

A 19th-Century Memory Palace Containing All of Ancient History 

This “Chronographer of Ancient History,” published by American educator Emma Willard in 1851, is one in a series of prints Willard designed to teach students about the shape of historical time. Her “Temples of Time” were (she wrote) a way to tap into the power of visual comprehension, so that the historical information conveyed would “by frequent inspection, be formed within, and forever remain, wrought into the living texture of the mind.” 

This Chronographer is a more specialized offshoot of Willard’s master Temple of Time, which tackled all of history. (She also produced an American version, with a map of the United States on its faraway back wall.) Willard’s Temples, writes historian Barry Joyce, were “possibly inspired by her study of ancient Greek commentaries on history and memory.” The structure’s reliance on perspective was intended to help chronology take on a physical dimension. 

The back of Willard’s Ancient History temple recedes into a black emptiness, labeled “Creation.” Historian Thomas M. Allen writes that early-19th-century Americans commonly accepted the Biblical timeline of history and added that Emma Willard’s Temples often noted “Creation BC 4004” on their back walls; “this date remained in the drawing even in late nineteenth-century editions of Willard’s text.” 

I first saw this Chronographer on bookseller John Ptak’s blog. Click on the image below to reach a zoomable version, or visit the item’s page on the Library of Congress website. 

Library of Congress