October 20, 2020

Emma Willard, the pioneer of infographics who invented the historical atlas in the 19th century | Talent


The last column of the Temple of Time is that of Napoleon. It is split, because when Emma Willard drew it, in 1846, the century that put the statesman in history was still around the equator. In the background, a wall closes the corridor: “The creation”. In the row of columns that separates Napoleon from creation, Carlos V, Genghis Khan, Charlemagne and Trajan appear, among others. The names of poets, painters, warriors, theologians, philosophers and discoverers appear on the ceiling. This is how Emma Willard History imagined. “Events seem to diminish when viewed from the perspective of the years that have elapsed,” Willard explained, whose death is 150 years old in 2020, on one of the weather maps that recover Public Domain Review.

Willard was born in New England in 1787. He complemented the teachings received at the school with which his father taught him in the afternoon and ended up dedicating himself to teaching. “Before the age of 15 I had already learned all the knowledge taught in public school, I had read the Parallel lives of Plutarch, the Old history from Charles Rollin and the History of the decline and fall of the Roman Empireby Edward Gibbon, “notes a biography of him published by John Lord in 1873.

Inventor of the history map

History was the muse of this pioneer who invented her own system of chronologies in perspective to represent time lines and narrate the passage of time through infographics. The progress of the Roman Empire, represented in the course of a river; the history of the United States, made tree, migrations of the barbarian tribes, like a few colored lines that intersect on the map of Europe. “In History, I invented the map,” Willard said, convinced of the potential of his data visualizations, in a letter to a friend of his. “I think that with my scheme to teach history I will achieve one of the greatest contributions in education that the human mind has ever received.”




‘Willard’s Chronographer of American History’

But this precocious expert in devising graphic representations to condense large amounts of data was not the only one who firmly believed in her project, which went beyond the schools in which it was used as didactic material: senators, judges and statesmen praised the precision and clarity of his historical atlas of the United States, titled Republic of America. This first attempt to map time arose naturally after Willard completed a series of materials for the subject of Geography. “With my thoughts focused on improving education, I have prepared for my students a series of maps of the United States, illustrating their geographical situation at certain times and combining historical events as if it were possible to delineate them on a map,” he explained in the preface of his novel atlas.

World (historical) Atlas

His next work, Universal history, also did not go unnoticed. “It is very complicated to condense the history of our race, of all countries, of heroes and benefactors, of all the great companies and events of 4,000 years, into a small octave of paper,” Lord acknowledges in his biography of Willard. “I can’t think of anything that requires more historical genius than the compression of the main events and the description of the main characters of the last 2,000 years in a small book that can be understood by students and of interest to teachers.”




‘Perspective Sketch of the Course of Nations’

The Temple of Time It is part of your Historical Guide, a smaller work, but no less ambitious than the previous ones. “With the help of tables, the eye captures at a glance the great eras and names of history,” says Lord. In the era of visual information, we might think that the graphics around us are our invention, but much of it was born in Willard’s time. “The current proliferation of visual information is a reflection of a similar moment in the early nineteenth century, when the arrival of new printing techniques joined the rapid expansion of education,” says historian Susan Schulten in Public Domain Review.

Lord also describes Willard as a “pioneer” of women’s education and does so in these terms: “She was one of the first to face the enormous problem, still to be solved, of how women can emerge from the monotony and frivolity of life. ordinary and assume the position that by their genius and character, by nature, they deserve, which is not only their privilege but their right. “

Pioneer in another type of time

Eunice Newton Foote (1819) coincided in time with Willard and in a certain sense, also in matter, even if only in name. His field of study was the weather, but the one related to the weather. This Connecticut scientist was the first to relate carbon dioxide to global warming, after discovering that the proportion of this substance in the atmosphere changes its temperature.

However, Foote’s contributions were ignored for almost a century, largely because of her status as a woman. The latter also prevented him from reading his own work before the American Association for Scientific Advancement.

His experiment combined four thermometers, two glass cylinders and an air pump. With this system, he isolated the gases that make up the atmosphere and exposed them to the sun and shade, so he could verify that the carbon dioxide absorbed enough heat to modify the temperature. “An atmosphere of carbon dioxide would give our land a high temperature,” he concluded.

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