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UCL Culture Blog


News and musings from the UCL Culture team


Tempus Fugit

By Edmund Connolly, on 19 February 2013

Guest blogger: Chris Webb


Wednesday 12 February at The Petrie Museum, saw our first evening in a series of talks given by our Timekeeper in residence, artist-curator Cathy Haynes, www.cathyhaynes.org, as she took us on a tour of objects in the museum and wider world that give us different experiences of time. The sequence of events is designed to question how we perceive, measure and record time. With the engagement of our lively audience, the evening suggested some interesting interpretations. As Cathy herself said, this first event threw up more questions than answers!

Guided through a world of chronology, we were invited to consider how everyone from the ancient Egyptians to Facebook’s timeline observed, understood and recorded time. We then deliberated on the material culture and objects that shape out understanding of time. Examples from the Petrie’s collection included: concepts of dynasties, votive bowls, shadow clocks/sun-dials, a worn-out leather shoe, a water clock, and the large amount of stelai and memorialisation that represent permanent markers connected with death and the afterlife, not to mention Flinders Petrie’s own meticulous sequential dating of objects.

A Shadow Clock

Moving from ancient Egypt, Cathy posed the question: How do we tell time? From alarm clocks to calendars and world history maps we found that diverse cultures conceive of time differently, with conflicting ideas about what drives the past and the recording of history. A sense of the order, and disruption, of time was proposed by examining different sources like the films Metropolis directed by Fritz Lang in 1927, and Charlie Chaplin’s 1936 Modern Times. Moving to the world of Art, we looked at visual narratives of time, from renaissance examples including Caravaggio, to pictorial representations of the industrial revolution, and maps of time by Eusebius.

The recording, measuring and control of time seem to have been Man’s obsession since ancient times. With this, we engaged with: Darwin’s tree of evolution, the ascent of Man, Haeckel’s tree of life, the Infographic/Cartographic works of Francis Galton, Emma Willard and Joseph Priestley, these examples all give us differing ideas of time through visual representation. In contrast we had the opportunity to study a copy of Deacon’s Synchronological Chart. Pictorial and Descriptive, of Universal History with Maps of the World’s Great Empires and a Complete Geological Diagram of the Earth. A huge book/map that well deserves its grand title. This was a fantastic opportunity to see close-up, how a Creationist perceived and represented time. Time flew, and as the evening came to an end Cathy invited us to ponder the question: “What would a map of life in all its dimensions look like?” I for one cannot wait until next time to find out.

Join us at our next Timekeeper event on the 28th February when Cathy will examine examples of Man’s idea of development. We’ll also have three experts revealing how the model of linear time needs updating. The philosopher Robert Rowland Smith, the astronomer Marek Kukul, and the evolutionary geneticist Professor Mark Thomas will discuss the evolution of modern human behaviour.

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