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Cognitive Semiotics

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Diagrams of the past: How timelines can aid the growth of historical knowledge

Marc Champagne
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  • Department of Philosophy, Trent University, 1600 West Bank Drive, Peterborough, Ontario, Canada, K9L 0G2
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Published Online: 2016-05-07 | DOI: https://doi.org/10.1515/cogsem-2016-0002


Historians occasionally use timelines, but many seem to regard such signs merely as ways of visually summarizing results that are presumably better expressed in prose. Challenging this language-centered view, I suggest that timelines might assist the generation of novel historical insights. To show this, I begin by looking at studies confirming the cognitive benefits of diagrams like timelines. I then try to survey the remarkable diversity of timelines by analyzing actual examples. Finally, having conveyed this (mostly untapped) potential, I argue that neglecting timelines might mean neglecting significant aspects of reality that are revealed only by those signs. My overall message is that once we accept that relations are as important for the mind as what they relate, we have to pay closer attention to any semiotic device that enables or facilitates the discernment of new relations.

Keywords: timelines; diagrammatic reasoning; historiography; inference; abduction


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About the article

Marc Champagne

Marc Champagne is an Assistant Professor of Philosophy at Trent University. He holds a PhD in Philosophy from York University in Toronto and a PhD in Semiotics from the University of Quebec in Montreal. He publishes regularly in major philosophy and semiotics journals and has a forthcoming book (with Springer) titled Consciousness and the Philosophy of Signs: How Peircean Semiotics Combines Phenomenal Qualia and Practical Effects.

Published Online: 2016-05-07

Published in Print: 2016-05-01

Citation Information: Cognitive Semiotics, Volume 9, Issue 1, Pages 11–44, ISSN (Online) 2235-2066, ISSN (Print) 1662-1425, DOI: https://doi.org/10.1515/cogsem-2016-0002.

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