Changes in Time and Space
Space and time are the fundamental means by which we order our experience and define our identity. Information systems grounded in space and time, such as maps and calendars (both mental and physical), are crucial to considering and classifying information. As a result, changes in these systems are of profound significance. These three books, each different and addressing distinct topics, nevertheless are linked by their concern with developments in the ordering of space and time, and with what these developments tell us about the societies involved.
The most ambitious work is that of James Drake, who is also the author of a significant work on the complex interaction of British and Native Americans, King Philip's War: Civil War in New England, 1675-1676. His new book is similarly thoughtful, but covers a wider chronological and conceptual range. Drake looks at the use of knowledge in the eighteenth century—notably scientific ideas, including those of geographers—in order to encompass the mass of North America and shape it into a coherent and explicable whole. The latter had to make sense in terms of existing stadial theories of development and geopolitical ideas, but also took them forward. In the process, Drake argues, metageographical ideas were important to an incipient nationalism that helped justify a sense of difference that made British rule appear alien. This account is somewhat instrumentalist and does not do justice to the subtlety of Drake's argument, nor to the range of reading he draws upon. Moreover, Drake's work is made more significant by the way in which it builds on the work of others, including Martin Lewis and Kären Wigen [End Page 620] on the myth of continents, and Martin Brückner and Paul Mapp on America and geographical knowledge. As an account of collective imagination, Drake's book is first rate. He takes his discussion into the early Republic, relating geographical ideas to constitutionalism, federalism, and the fate of Native Americans. The book invites attention to the understanding and use of geography by military leaders in the shaping of strategy and, more interestingly, strategic culture.
Denise Oleksijczuk, in contrast, looks at the contemporary view from the center of empire. The panorama was a 360-degree visual medium patented (under a different name) by the artist Robert Barker in 1787. His ambition was to create, from a given spot, a picture of every object visible within the entire circle of the horizon with such fidelity that it could scarcely be distinguished from what it represented. The inaugural exhibition, a View of Edinburgh, was first shown in that city in 1788, then transported to London in 1789. By 1793, Barker had built the Panorama rotunda at the center of London's entertainment district in Leicester Square, where it remained until closed in 1863. In her interesting book, Oleksijczuk looks at the first three decades of the panorama. In addition to the art itself, notably the thirty-eight paintings exhibited at Leicester Square from 1793 to 1820, she considers the keys sold to visitors beginning in 1812, which provided either schematic diagrams or images to help viewers identify objects and sites in the painted representations. Her study enables her to consider the ways in which panorama images were produced and understood. Much of their subject matter dealt with war, and thus this book offers a different form of nation building from that discussed by Drake, in which visual material and consumerism are far more prominent. As Oleksijczuk explains, battle panoramas taught collective audiences that courage in battle was glorious, and dying for one's country the ultimate glory.
The control of time and society through the definition and depiction of the former is the subject of Matthew Shaw's excellent account of the French Revolutionary calendar, introduced in 1793 and employed until the end of 1805, when it was discarded by Napoleon in his reaction against the Revolution. Dating the year retrospectively from the start of the French Republic in September 1792, the calendar also reformed the weeks and months of the year and decimalized the hours of the day. Shaw puts his study in a wide context: the understanding and measurement of time, and changes in both. As a consequence, his study links Enlightenment and Revolution. Moreover, Shaw shows how the calendar's trajectory can be linked to the political developments of the Revolutionary and Napoleonic eras. At the same time, he looks back to earlier instances of calendar reform, especially the policing of religious festivals, and to the processes of accommodation and resistance involved. This is an impressive study that includes a far-too-brief account of the calendar abroad.
All three of these books deserve attention. They indicate the extent to which ordering reality was linked to state-building in a dynamic fashion. [End Page 621]