Time travelling Hackett's illustrated snapshot of the past

Alison Hackett presents history in a new format in her book, The Visual Time Traveller: 500 years of History, Art and Science in 100 Unique Designs.

Time travelling Hackett's illustrated snapshot of the past

Delightfully illustrated panels incorporate up to 12 facts a page in chronological order from 1400AD. The facts are taken from science, politics, history, music and art, and there is also playful trivia, giving a rounded snapshot of the past.

While working as the Irish representative for the Physics Institute, Hackett came across a poster made by children at a conference in Switzerland. This innovative timeline inspired her to produce a similar poster for Irish primary schools. “You had dates with famous physicists such as Einstein and Galileo,” she says, “but when I looked a little closer there was a little picture of Beethoven with his name and birthdate and when I looked closer again I realised this was a physics timeline in context. So it was showing you what else was going on in major fields: space exploration or the arts or music. And I just adored it.”

Hackett realised there was “a book in it” and her passion to produce it inspired her to leave her job. She embarked on a new career, not just as an author but also as a publisher, distributor and promoter. Although it is a demanding and expensive business, she has not been put off self publishing and hopes to publish more titles under her label ‘21st Century Renaissance’.

Armed with 300 facts from the poster project, she began her research. Wikipedia, the online encyclopedia, was the biggest asset. “Wikipedia is a modern telling of all this old information,” she says. “With the Guttenberg printing press, the movable type printing absolutely transformed the world. This became a new way to share information — it was fast and powerful. The worldwide web has had the same effect, in that this book is of its time, because it could not exist without the access I had to that extraordinary level of information across all these different subjects. This would’ve been a 20-year job prior to the internet.”

When negotiating the artwork with Dublin design house Origin, Hackett requested that the end product be “eye candy and brain food”. She asked that each page be a “knockout”, so that turning from one to the next is an adventure in both text and illustration. “I like the idea that it’s like a cryptic crossword puzzle,” she says.

An exhibition in the RDS Library accompanies the book. Here Hackett has curated a selection of pages in large-scale prints. A public lecture will enable Hackett to share her passion for the project with a wider audience.

with some of the more playful facts it was difficult to pin down a primary source. Hackett had to let a couple of these juicer facts in; such as the monastery raid in 1659 when Parisian police sent monks to prison for eating meat and drinking wine during Lent. “I allowed them in when I felt they were so good I couldn’t leave them out,” she says. “It’s a little bit of artistic licence.”

nExhibition: The Visual Time Traveller RDS Library April 2 — May 15.

Talk: A presentation on The Visual Time Traveller by its author Alison Hackett will take place at 6pm on April 2 in the RDS Minerva Suite, followed by the opening of the exhibition at 7.20pm in the RDS Library. Free but booking essential — Email librarydesk@rds.ie or telephone the RDS Library 01-2407254.

* The Visual Time Traveller is available at Hodges Figgis in Dublin, Waterstones in Cork and independent bookshops.

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