Vertical history

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Tim Urban invites us to think about history in vertical terms in this thoughtful blog post. (By the way, we discovered his post via jason kottke, one of our favorite bloggers of all time.) Mr Urban presents a beautiful botanical metaphor (in bold below) in order to compare and contrast “horizontal history” (i.e. familiar timelines of historical events presented in chronological order) and his original conception of “vertical history” (i.e. the vertical visualization of the overlapping lifespans of great historical actors in a given era; see, for example, the table above). Mr Urban writes:

Normally, we learn about history’s storylines in isolation. We might have a strong sense of the history of physics breakthroughs or the progression of western philosophical thought or the succession of French rulers—but we’re not as clear on how each of these storylines relate to each otherIf you think of history like a tangle of vines growing upwards through time, studying one type of history at a time is like following the path of one particular vine while ignoring the other vines around it. It’s understanding history in a vertical sense. * * * Mozart wrote his Requiem the same year the US forefathers were writing the Bill of Rights and that Beethoven had a love-hate relationship with Napoleon—but using the lifespan diagram, you can see both of these stories visually.

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