Emma Willard’s Temple of Time

Emma Willard, [Title on boards:] WILLARD’S MAP OF TIME [Title on sheet:] TEMPLE OF TIME. New York: A. S. Barnes & Co., 1846.
Wood engraving and letterpress[?], printed area 25 ½”h x 36 ¾”w plus margins, original wash color. Removed from but accompanied by original folder (14 ½”h x 10”w) with printed paper labels. Folds flattened, mends and other repairs to wear along old folds and in margins. Tiny areas of facsimile along some folds, and all or part of 21 words of text block at lower left replaced in facsimile. All restoration brilliantly done and visible only on close inspection.
On Hold

The Temple of Time, a striking and very rare 1846 chronological chart of world history by Emma Willard, a pioneering educator who in the service of her broader mission became America’s first female map maker.

With the Temple of Time Willard expands on her Picture of Nations or Perspective Sketch of the Course of Empire. That image, published in her 1836 Atlas to Accompany a System of Universal Geography, uses a flow diagram (pioneered by Friedrich Strass) to document the rise and fall of empires.  For the Temple of Time Willard repurposed her flow diagram, which now adorns the floor of a Classical temple. The architecture of the Temple itself serves as a metaphor for history, with the present represented by the foreground and events “receding,” as it were, to the Creation at the very back of the structure. Within the Temple, the flow of time is demarcated and regularized by 59 pairs of Ionic columns each representing a century.

The flow diagram on the Temple floor bears the names of kings, queens and emperors and is flanked by the major battles and other events of each period. Each column bears the names of “those sovereigns by which the age is chiefly distinguished”, while the ceiling lists the eminent statesmen, thinkers, theologians, artists and military figures of each age.

The explanatory text below the Temple reveals two core tenets of Willard’s educational philosophy, namely that facts must be connected to one another to be meaningful, and that only by making them visually manifest may they be retained.

“The attempt to understand chronology by merely committing dates to memory, is not only painful, but it is as useless as to learn latitudes and longitudes, without the study of maps. As in geography, the relation of any place to all other places is what is important to know; so in chronology, the relation which any given event bears to others constitutes the only useful knowledge….


“By putting the course of time into perspective, the disconnected parts of a vast subject are united into one, and comprehended at a glance;–the poetic idea of “the vista of departed years” is made an object of sight; and when the eye is the medium, the picture will, by frequent inspection, be formed within, and forever remain, wrought into the living texture of the mind. If this be done by a design whose beauty and grandeur naturally attract attention, then the teacher or parent who shall place it before his pupils and children will find that they will insensibly become possesses of an inner “Temple” in which they may, through life, deposite[sic], in the proper order of time, the facts of history as they shall acquire them. This we repeat is as important to the student of time as maps are to the student of place.”

Willard’s intention is that, once committed by students to memory, the Temple will serve as a framework within which future knowledge may be “deposited” for future retrieval. She is thus clearly aligning herself with the ancient technique of the “Memory Palace,” advocated in Greek and Roman treatises on oratory and rediscovered in the Renaissance. (Rosenberg and Grafton, pp. 202-203)

Emma Willard (1787-1870)
Born in 1787 in Berlin, Connecticut, Emma Willard took a teaching job in her hometown while still a teenager.  In 1815, dissatisfied with the educational opportunities available to women, she established the Middlebury (Vermont) Female Seminary. In 1821 she moved on to found the Troy (New York) Female Seminary, “which soon became a preeminent school for future teachers and one of the country’s finest institutions of female education.” (Schulten, p. 18)  Among other contributions, Willard engaged in a sustained critique of traditional methods used to teach geography and history, which emphasized rote memorization of facts largely through the study of densely-worded texts.

“[She] did not take issue with the goal of memorization, as later educators would, but instead faulted existing learning methods and reformulated the presentation of information. The distinction is important, for she believed that the visual preceded the verbal. Information presented spatially and visually would facilitate memory by attaching images to the mind through the eyes….


“This concern with the visual dynamics of learning and the importance of geography fueled Willard’s interest in cartography. She found maps unmatched for their ability to convey complexity, visualize the nation, and help students gain a more holistic view of the past. Maps placed history, she argued, and this physicality and emphasis on location would foster memory.” (Schulten, Mapping the Nation, p. 19)

Over the course of her long career Willard published numerous atlases, histories and geographies embodying her distinctive educational techniques. Even within this large oeuvre, the Temple of Time stands out for its size, complexity and rarity.

OCLC #37210386 and 56960796, and 702088679, giving examples at the American Antiquarian Society, Amherst College, Columbia, New York Public, Peabody Essex Museum, Princeton, and Office of Commonwealth Libraries (PA), as of February 2023. OCLC 1298800141 records an example at the St. Louis Public Library, but I am skeptical, as the dimensions are given as 31cm. Another example is held in the David Rumsey Collection at Stanford.

Rosenberg and Grafton, Cartographies of Time, pp. 201-203 (illus).  Schulten, Mapping the Nation pp. 33-34. Schulten, Emma Willard[:] Maps of History, pp. 198-201 (illus.) Additional biographical background from the finding aid to the Emma (Hart) Willard Collection at the Emma Willard School.