The Temple of Time is complicated, and more than a little contrived. Yet Willard reminds readers that traditional cartography relies on the same basic conceit:
In a map, great countries made up of plains, mountains, seas, and rivers, are represented by what is altogether unlike them; viz., lines, shades, and letters, on a flat piece of paper; but the divisions of the map enable the mind to comprehend, by proportional space and distance, what is the comparative size of each, and how countries are situated with respect to each other. So this picture made on paper, called a Temple of Time, though unlike duration, represents it by proportional space. It is as scientific and intelligible, to represent time by space, as it is to represent space by space.
A map, in other words, is an arrangement of symbols into a system of meaning—and we use maps because we understand the language of signs that undergirds them. If the mapping of space was a human invention, she explained, one could also invent a means of mapping time.
Willard’s creative efforts to ‘map time’ stemmed from personal experience. Born just after the Revolution, she was part of the first generation of American women to be educated outside the home, and she chafed at the way ‘female education’kept more than a few areas of knowledge off limits. One of the few subjects considered suitable for both boys and girls in that era was geography, yet Willard remembered with frustration the degree to which her textbooks lacked maps. It makes sense, then, that as a young teacher in the 1810s Willard became passionate about having her pupils draw maps—not copying them (a common practice in schools for young women at the time) but rather reproducing them in rough terms from memory to demonstrate a grasp of geographical relationships.
Willard’s own artistic creativity as a mapmaker was evident from the start. Her first textbook—a geography written with William Woodbridge and published in 1824—includes a metaphorical map of the Amazon River and its tributaries which illustrates the evolution of the Roman Empire. (One can see in this early effort the prototype for her elaborate ‘Perspective Sketch’ of the 1830s.)
Willard’s creativity as an educator was equally immense. In 1819 she published a plan to publicly fund the improvement of female education, which met with more than a little resistance. Two years later, she began to implement this vision by founding the Troy Female Seminary in New York—an institution that quickly became a preeminent school for future teachers and one of the most highly regarded schools for women in the country. At Troy, Willard assumed that females were capable of studying the same subjects as their male counterparts and incorporated ‘masculine studies,’ such as science and history, into the curriculum. Her administration of Troy, and her intensive teaching in the decade prior to and after its foundation, convinced her of the multiple failures of contemporary pedagogy and textbooks.
In 1828, Willard issued the first edition of her History of the United States, or The Republic of America, a textbook so popular it would remain in print until the 1860s. One key element of the book’s success was the atlas that accompanied the text—a series of maps of the eastern US that Willard designed and executed with a former female student. In this series, each map marked particular moments or eras that either led toward or resulted from nationhood, including the landing on Plymouth Rock, the Treaty of Paris, or the late War of 1812 against Britain. Perhaps the most remarkable of these was the ‘introductory map,’ which identified indigenous tribes through a series of geographic migrations, collapsing centuries of movement into a single image. In naming this the ‘introductory’map, however, Willard situated Native Americans in a prehistorical era antedating the ostensibly more significant events of European settlement. The single image she created was innovative and powerful, but it also rendered the violence of Native displacement as an inevitable prelude that gave way to the real drama of colonialism and the inevitable realization of national independence.