Jerome Holgate’s Atlas of American History, an ambitious, interesting but unsuccessful attempt to compile and synthesize American history in graphic form.
Inspired by the chronological charts of Joseph Priestley and Emmanuel de las Cases (writing pseudonymously as A. le Sage), some time in the 1830s author Jerome Holgate (1812-1893) conceived of an ambitious, five-part series of chronological charts covering the ancient world, the United States, Greece and Rome, England and Europe. These were to be distinct in at least two ways: First, in their attempt to encompass, not merely historical events but also cultural and economic developments and the lives of major historical figures. Second, each would make use of a great variety of graphic symbols, in an attempt to convey information efficiently and memorably. Holgate should thus be seen as part of a larger movement in American education, one which sought to engage students by presenting information in graphic format rather than compelling rote memorization of texts.
Offered here is the second installment in Holgate’s grand project, his Atlas of American History, published in 1842. The Atlas consists of ten pages of prefatory material and six intricate engraved charts, together covering the years 1492 through 1842. On each chart time flows sequentially from top to bottom, with events categorized thematically in columns running across the sheet. For example, the first chart covers the years 1492 through 1600, with a group of columns for events in Florida, Virginia, Canada, Newfoundland and so on; another group for “ecclesiastical history,” “slave trade” and “whale fishery;” and yet another group for events involving England, France, Spain and other European countries. Personal names are accompanied by tiny symbols, such as a crown for a king or queen, a star for a statesman, and an anchor for a navigator.
Holgate states his objective in the Preface: “It is the object of this work to present the most important facts of History, Chronology, Biography and Statistics, in the shortest compass possible, by lines and symbols which appeal to the eye.” In truth, while Holgate’s ambition is admirable, there is little appealing about this work: The charts are carefully engraved but absolutely bewildering, and they must have been a great torment to students. Likely for this reason, Holgate’s five-part project seems not to have been fully realized: Though the Preface to the Atlas of American History refers to the prior publication of his Chart of Ancient History, OCLC lists no copies in American institutions, and I find no record whatsoever of the planned works on Greece and Rome, England and Europe.
Nevertheless, I get the impression that Holgate’s work was well received, at least by his peers. The prefatory material includes more than a dozen testimonials, including one from eminent historian Jared Sparks printed in extra-large type and allotted its own page. Another reviewer described it as “Comprehensive, accurate, and convenient…. A vast body of particulars in history, chronology, biography, and geography. We have never seen such a work, American or foreign, of which the plates were better executed.” (Wiley & Putnam, American Book Circular, no 161 (April 1842), p. 14, citing the North American Review.)
Holgate produced a number of other historical and religious works, including American genealogy (1848), Beekman Family Records (1848), Conversations on the Present Age of the World in Connection with Prophecy (1853), Noachidæ; or, Noah and his descendants (1860), and Shortcomings of the Puritan church, and Reorganization of society (1863).Under the pseudonym Oliver Bolokitten[!] also wrote a dystopian novel attacking abolition, A Sojourn in the City of Amalgamation, in the Year of Our Lord, 19— (1835).
OCLC 31850370et al, locating 15 institutional holdings and a host of digital holdings (June 2019). Sabin #32490.