The Histomap. A 4,000 year graphical timeline of history.


Reading Time: 11 minutes

The Histomap. A 4,000 year graphical timeline of history.

In the fall of 1931, the Rand McNally Company published The Histomap. It was a 5 foot tall folded map of the ebb and flow of global power going back to 2,000 B.C. on one coherent timeline. It was a revolutionary “infographic” at the time. Sold for $1.00 at drug stores near paperback novels and of course near the paper maps, the Histomap was very popular.

This is the work of John B. Sparks (1886 – December 22, 1949) published a few illustrations for magazines, textbooks and movies but was not a professional academic. Sparks was a chemical engineer, bacteriologist, and historian. Born in England, Sparks immigrated to the United States. in the early 1900s. He developed a fascination with culture, history, and the philosophies of other civilizations from a young age, which led him to create a series of three ‘histomaps’ concerning history, evolution, and religion. At the time of his death, Sparks was a director of Nestle’s Milk Products Inc. in New York City. He married Dorothy C. Sparks with whom he had three children, one son and two daughters. The Histomaps here, was a hobby of this successful chemical engineer.

John B. Sparks

The Histomap was a turning point in self-education for many in that era. There was of course, no Internet and few timelines that merged the history of many countries at the same time. It was a superb educational tool for someone of any age. It was also a beautiful work of art when you view the full size, proudly displayed in many homes.

Own The Histomap Poster

I have taken a very high resolution version of the Histomap and had it printed in full color on museum grade poster paper. The best way to take in the power of the Histomap is as a poster. Although this version it is not 5 feet tall (let me know if you would like one, I will produce one), it is large enough to read and is an amazing piece of art and history to own. I look at mine daily and find it is a spectacular way to learn history. I have made the poster available for you to also own, and support the work of Multiplex.

Buy Histomap- 4 thousand years of history. Poster – 24″ x 36″

A Surprise

The popularity of the Histomap took Rand McNally by surprise, and the quickly contracted John Sparks for a series of historical graphical timelines and ultimately a book. I will present some of Spark’s work in later articles. An interesting one is the 1942, Histomap of Evolution.

Not Perfect, But Incredibly Useful

There is little doubt that Histomap timeline is biased to the western world, Sparks was an American, it does do a good job presenting the world in general over the time period. But clearly the history of India, Africa and China is nearly not represented. The Histomap used some new ideas in presenting a large amount of data and connecting it with points in history. The color codes track the civilizations. The y-axis is the period of time and the growing and shrinking x-axis is the power that civilization had in the developed world.

I have a very high resolution version of the Histomap for you to download and study, it is quite a challenge to present this five foot poster on a computer screen and is one of the reasons I commissioned a poster. This is one of the best digital high resolution files of the Histomap:

Histomap- High Resolution

Below is a version that can give you an overview but is not easily readable, but useful:

It is very interesting and insightful to see history presented in this way. Long term members of Read Multiplex know that there are clear and duplicated cycles in history. Although Sparks did not present the cycles, the Histomap shows how a few played out over 4000 years.

The Histomap is one of the more important documents in history because it is so approachable and not linear, you can enter at any point and exit. This is also done with a time and power y/x-axis that can give an overview of how time plays upon power. A very important perspective at this time in history, or any time in history.

“Without a map who would attempt to study geography?” –JOHN B. SPARKS, 1931

We will explore more aspects of the Histomap in a Member’s Only section below. There are some interesting ways the past, saw the past as opposed to how the past is taught today. We will turn everything sideways and see something few have noticed since 1931. If you are a member, thank you. To become a member, please click on the link below and join us.

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