The Histomap

I have only just come across this.

The “Histomap,”  was a tour-de-force of his time, created by John B. Sparks, an amateur historian and was 5 feet long and covered 4,000 years of global history. It was first printed by Rand McNally in 1931 and was marketed for just $1.00. Inevitably his “map” is Occidental-centric but it is still a quite remarkable piece of work.

Histomap advertisement (Yale Library)

Histomap advertisement (Yale Library)

The map itself – fully zoomable – can be found at the David Rumsey Map Collection

Histomap by John B Sparks

Histomap by John B Sparks

As Musings on Maps writes:

One would assume the map effaces singularities or any singular historical narrative–the selective condensation of information to an image five feet in length in the Histomap can’t be beat for charting a balance of power among world cultures, reifying the state and racial difference as the metric by which to map world history.

HistoMap Upper Rubric

Convenience and efficiency are both premiums in its design.  As other early twentieth-century compendia of knowledge, the map glories in positivist  presumptions of mappability:  rather than offering narrative, the map offers the inverse, apparently obliterating any local meanings:  it homogenizes four thousand years not by relinquishing narrative structures, but using a racial rubric to map states’ “relative power.”

Histomap Rubric

Sparks devised the Histomap as both more ecumenical and empyrean in its economic individuation of purified vision of history, and more global.  Its color-keyed streams are readily comprehensible consultation of the lay reader, but the green dust jacket assured prospective they would be overwhelmed by “the fresh realization of the very recent insignificant contribution to history of those we are accustomed to call great men,” as the map would leave them ”enthralled.”

The Start of the Histomap

Starting from the Minoans and the Settlement of the Nile Delta, this occidentalist condensation of some four-thousand years “relative powers of contemporary states, nations, and empires,” is the distillation of an era of state-building–a narrative to which it accommodates the dynastic division of time among the Egyptians Ammorites, and Chinese, to digest their otherness in a river of time.  By erasing the Neolithic, as it were, the streams contemporaneously arise, like Athena from Zeus’ head, with the force of a declarative statement.

Each stream is distinctly separate, and as one wanes another takes its place to expand, in the uniform frame of mankind:

Each stream is separate

Geography (as globalism) is a big casualty in this visualization of time, indeed, as one stream–here the Roman–comes to fill the viewer’s field of vision from around 150 BC, as it fills not only the historical record, but the balance of world powers.  Although this was long before the notion of such a balance existed or was understood, this was the optic in which Sparks so skillfully visualized a universal history, and, more to the point, made sense to lay readers of the 1920s and 30s.

John Sparks followed up with a historical map of evolution in 1932.


Tags: , , ,

%d bloggers like this: