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Workshop discussion with PD Dr. Astrit Schmidt-Burkhardt

Paris, 1753: The year passed with little memorability in France - no change of government, no war, no natural disaster. But what becomes history? Who are its protagonists, what is handed down - and that from the dawn of time? The physician and polymath Jacques Barbeu-Dubourg (1709-1779) wanted to record nothing less than that, visualize it graphically and thus make it available. To this end, he invented a machine made of paper and glue: the chronology machine.

Staatsbibliothek zu Berlin in der Potsdamer Straße
Staatsbibliothek zu Berlin in der Potsdamer Straße © visitBerlin, Foto Nele Niederstadt

By means of this sensational apparatus, it was possible to unroll the universal history, translated into a horizontal image panorama of three dozen copperplate prints with a length of well over sixteen meters, while looking and learning. What's more, in the run-up to the French Revolution, Barbeu-Dubourg even looked open-eyed into the future. Two media epochs and a good century and a half later, what had been designed as chronographical dramaturgy in the sign of the Enlightenment and in Denis Diderot's environment finally flickers across large screens in movie theaters as a historical thriller.

In pre-digital times, the chronology machine even anticipated scrolling through the Internet. Today, it is almost forgotten; only one copy of it still exists. - The workshop discussion at the State Library will focus on the media-archaeological significance of this apparatus and on its didactic revolution in historiography. The author will discuss this with the participants.

Dr. Astrit Schmidt-Burkhardt is a private lecturer in art and visual history at Freie Universität Berlin.

Moderation: Dr. Jens Prellwitz

(Program in German)
Additional information
Staatsbibliothek zu Berlin (PS)