How to chronologize with a hammer, Or, The myth of homogeneous, empty time

This work is licensed under the Creative Commons | © Byron Ellsworth Hamann. ISSN 2049-1115 (Online). DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.14318/hau6.1.016


How to chronologize with a hammer, Or, The myth of homogeneous, empty time

Byron Ellsworth HAMANN, Ohio State University

Modern Western temporality is often characterized (quoting Walter Benjamin) as “homogeneous, empty time.” This temporality is said (in the influential works of Johannes Fabian and Michel-Rolph Trouillot, for example) to result from a process by which sacred Judeo-Christian time was secularized: beginning in the Renaissance and finally achieved by the Enlightenment. Taking Fabian and Trouillot as a point of departure, this essay considers the past five centuries of Western chronological history. Temporal secularization is revealed to be far less linear (and much more recent) than Occidentalist common sense would assume. Given the actual strangeness of the “Common Era” Gregorian calendar—according to whose rhythms much of the world now structures its life—two models are proposed for dealing with that calendar’s complex legacies. Following Nietzsche, we can productively take a hammer to the idol of Western chronology: not to smash it, but to make it ring.

Keywords: time, calendars, apocalypticism, Latin America, Atlantic studies, Mediterranean studies, Christianity

In memoriam George W. Stocking, Jr.

Occasional essays

The following article (like many others in this collection) had its origins in Chicago, in November 2013, at the 112th Annual Meeting of the American Anthropological Association. It is, therefore, what George Stocking (2001) would have called an “occasional essay.” And for several reasons. By a curious happenstance—or not—2013 marked both the thirtieth anniversary of the publication of Johannes Fabian’s Time and the other (1983) as well as the tenth anniversary of Michel-Rolph Trouillot’s [262]Global transformations (2003). Both Fabian and Trouillot were fascinated by the cultural construction of time in the West: that is, European traditions of thinking about chronology. Both were also committed to a genealogy of the present stretching back five centuries: to the Renaissance. Their shared longue durée approach was particularly compelling to me—and became the starting point for this essay—because my own work centers on the interconnected histories of the Mediterranean and Atlantic worlds in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, and the ways in which models of time during those early modern centuries were linked to projects of social transformation both within Europe and beyond.1

The following pages undertake an anthropology of the anthropology of history. That is, I consider the cultural assumptions about Western temporality embedded in the work of Fabian and Trouillot.2 I begin by tracing how these two influential anthropologists characterize the past five centuries of temporal construction in the Western tradition, with particular attention to the pre-Enlightenment, pre-eighteenth-century legacies of the Renaissance. From this foundation, I then build upon, and complicate, Fabian and Trouillot’s arguments. I focus on two issues. First is the multidirectionality of early modern European models of time, and the connection of these models to projects of social transformation. Second is the paradoxical importance of European religious conflicts for the desacralization of eschatological time.

Like Bernhard Siegert (2015: 9), I approach abstract concepts of temporality through specific techniques and models of temporal measurement. I do not explore how time was subjectively experienced—the “inward notation of time,” as E.P. Thompson (1967: 57) famously described it.3 This doesn’t mean that embodied [263]temporalities cannot be recovered from the archive of early modernity; it is simply to stress that my concerns here focus on how the passage of time was culturally modeled, and how such models of time were called upon to justify action in the world.

But even within these analytic limits, there is much to say. The history of Western time over the past five hundred years—during which a temporal regime first established in sixteenth-century Catholic Europe was imposed on much of the world—is incredibly strange. And so after outlining that history in the first three sections of this essay, I conclude by turning to the twentieth century’s most famous meditation on time and history, Walter Benjamin’s 1940 “Über den Begriff der Geschichte.” Translated as “Theses on the philosophy of history” in 1968, and as “On the concept of history” in 2003, this manifesto contains Benjamin’s oft-quoted criticism of “historical progress” as “progression though a homogeneous, empty time” (Benjamin 2003: 395; see also Handler, and Handman, this collection). Benjamin’s phrase has been extremely influential. It is thought to characterize a distinctively Western approach to temporality. But as Benjamin himself made clear (and as well illustrated by European chronological conflicts over the past five centuries), such a concept of time was, in 1940, at best a recent aberration in the lands north of the Mediterranean. It was hardly an all-pervasive model. And so, in James Carrier’s terms, currently-commonsense assumptions about Western chronology as “homogeneous, empty time” are based on a naïve-native Occidentalism: “the essentialist rendering of the West by Westerners” (1992: 199). Or, as Trouillot would point out, “the history the West tells itself about itself” isn’t always to be trusted (2003: 1; see also Bonilla 2014: 169). The supposed hegemony of homogeneous Western time is hollow, but this doesn’t mean that its framework can (or should) be discarded. The final pages of my essay therefore propose two strategies for making this chronological idol resonate in productive ways.

“The Renaissance as a founding moment”

Renaissance horizons are constantly at play in both Fabian and Trouillot. On page 3 of Time and the other (1983), Fabian suggests that “‘universal Time’ was probably established concretely and politically in the Renaissance in response to both classical philosophy and to the cognitive challenges presented by the age of discoveries opening up in the wake of the earth’s circumnavigation”—although he goes on to say that, “nevertheless, there are good reasons to look for decisive developments, not in the moments of intellectual rupture achieved by Copernicus and Galileo nor, for that matter, by Newton and Locke, but in the century that elaborated the devices of discourse we now recognize as the foundations of modern anthropology—the Age of Enlightenment.” (We will soon return to this opening claim). Later, in chapter 4 (“The other and the eye: Time and the rhetoric of vision”), Renaissance intellectual history becomes a key reference for thinking about the deep background to ethnography’s strategies of visual argumentation. Fabian first discusses Renaissance historian Frances Yates and her 1966 classic, The art of memory, which traces the history of the memory palace in the West: during antiquity and the Middle Ages in chapters 1–4; its early modern flowering in chapters 5–17. This evocation of Renaissance-revived memory-techniques (which Fabian links to broader issues of visualization and spatialization of knowledge) is followed by a treatment of Walter [264]Ong’s scholarship on Petrus Ramus (1515–72). Ramus—a Renaissance humanist and Protestant convert who was murdered in France’s religious wars—had been a key innovator in the use of diagrams for visually ordering knowledge, techniques that Fabian argues offer “uncanny” parallels to the use of charts by twentieth-century anthropologists (1983: 116).

Renaissance perspectives are central to Trouillot as well, who forcefully demonstrates the importance of tracing a deep history of twenty-first-century globalizations back to 1492. On the first page of Global transformations, Trouillot writes that his “point of departure precedes most studies of globalization by five centuries,” and throughout his book the late fifteenth- and early sixteenth-century invasion of the Americas is a constant point of reference: “A repeated emphasis on the Enlightenment and the nineteenth century, and the downplay of the Renaissance as a founding moment, also leads to the neglect of the role of the Caribbean and Latin America in the production of the earliest tropes associated with modernity” (2003: 45).

Fabian and Trouillot aren’t simply interested in Renaissance horizons as a framework for events. They also suggest how Western models of time-consciousness—the Occidental cultural construction of time—have changed over the past five centuries. Both argue that a Judeo-Christian model of sacred time as eschatology (that is, a vision of history dominated by teleological anticipation of the Last Judgment and the end of time) was desacralized by the eighteenth century, becoming instead an open-ended, if still oddly teleological, vision of unending futurological progress. Fabian argues that “decisive steps towards modernity, those that permitted the emergence of anthropological discourse must be sought, not in the invention of a linear conception, but in a succession of attempts to secularize Judeo-Christian time by generalizing and universalizing it”—and then he continues with the Renaissance-to-Enlightenment proposal quoted above: “‘Universal Time’ was probably established concretely and politically in the Renaissance . . . nevertheless, there are good reasons to look for decisive developments . . . in . . . the Age of Enlightenment” (1983: 2–3). Trouillot argues that “modernity implies first and foremost a fundamental shift in regimes of historicity, most notably the perception of a past radically different from the present and the perception of a future that becomes both attainable (because secular) and yet indefinitely postponed (because removed from eschatology)” (2003: 38).4 These temporal claims are provocative, and are well worth revisiting in the light of recent research on early modern global history. In the next sections, I review the early modern archive in detail to test the Renaissance visions shared by Fabian and Trouillot: first, their arguments for a dominant apocalyptic-eschatological temporal model in early modernity; and, second, their ideas about the process by which a sacred model of time became secularized.

Eschatology and reduction

It is certainly true that apocalyptic anticipation was a key feature of Western time-consciousness in early modernity, and that this Last Days orientation played an [265]important role in Renaissance projects of social transformation—something John Leddy Phelan argued a half-century ago in The millennial kingdom of the Franciscans in the New World (1956). However, as Sanjay Subrahmanyam points out more recently, early modern millennial expectations were not unique to the West. They were shared across Eurasia, and can be used as a framework to write “connected histories” of the world from Iberia to India (Subrahmanyam 1997). And beyond. Apocalyptic models of time were also present in the indigenous Americas, where pre-Hispanic ideas about cataclysmic transformation were used to understand the arrival of the Europeans.5

Figure 1, for example, shows a scene from the Lienzo de Tlaxcala. Created around 1552, this was an account of the “Conquest of Mexico” written from a Native American point of view. It tells how the indigenous Tlaxcalans (pre-Hispanic enemies of the Aztecs) managed to destroy the empire of their ancient foes through an alliance with European foreigners. The scene in Figure 1 takes place in July 1520, just after the joint Tlaxcalan–European army had been driven in defeat from the Aztec capital of Tenochtitlan. In other words, their first attempt at conquest had failed. But although violently expelled from the Aztecs’ island city, the Tlaxcalans did not betray their European allies. And so (according to alphabetic documents from 1562) it was at this point that Cortés (safely back in Tlaxcala) chose to reward his Tlaxcalan allies for their loyalty. He promised them a privileged position in the new political order of Spanish rule. In this scene from the Lienzo, a giant disk rises into the sky between Cortés and Malinche (on the left) and a Tlaxcalan ruler (on the right). The disk is a symbolic sun, wrought from gold and quetzal feathers. Its appearance here is incredibly significant. Throughout pre-Hispanic Mesoamerica, indigenous people conceived of universal history as a series of creations. Each creation was illuminated by its own distinctive sun (Hamann 2002). However, these previous ages of creation were imperfect, and so were destroyed by the gods in world-cleansing cataclysms. Over and over again, on the ruins of old orders, the gods attempted to build a perfect cosmos, finally arriving at the world of the “present.” By depicting a gilded sun rising into the sky in this particular scene, Tlaxcalan artists were suggesting that the promise of Cortés, and the coming of the Europeans, represented the dawning of a new age of creation, one that destroyed imperfect pre-Hispanic social orders and replaced them with a better world (Hamann 2013). In sum, the cultural construction of chronology as eschatology was a global phenomenon in the fifteenth, sixteenth, and seventeenth centuries, not simply a Western one.6[266]

Figure 1
Figure 1: The First Sunrise, from Cell 29 of the Lienzo de Tlaxcala (circa 1552). (Reconstruction courtesy of www.mesolore.org.)

Furthermore, even within the phantasmal frontiers of an early modern Europe, models of time as eschatology could be used to resist social transformation, not simply to justify it. During the Middle Ages, Catholic theorists had argued that the final conversion of Jews and Muslims to Christianity would not (and could not) take place until the Last Days.7 According to this timeline of eleventh-hour [267]change, forced conversion projects decreed by human laws were transgressive meddlings in the pace of a Christian god’s divine plan (Nirenberg 1996; Pick 2004: 76, 132–34). This is why, in Mediterranean Valencia in 1544 (where Islam had been declared illegal a mere two decades earlier), the Catholic lords of Benimodo repeatedly denied the requests of local priest Lazarus Despuela to baptize their Muslim subjects: “Many times he begged that they should give him permission to baptize the Moriscos, and they responded to him saying that now was not the time, and that he should leave them be.”8

But if eschatology provided a globally shared model for time in the fifteenth, sixteenth, and seventeenth centuries—a model that could both support and reject campaigns of teleological Christianization—it was also, within early modern Europe itself, not the only model for thinking about temporality and social change. On page 2 of Time and the other (1983), Fabian writes that “in the Judeo-Christian tradition, Time has been conceived as the medium of a sacred history. Much has been said about the linear character of that conception, as opposed to pagan, cyclical views of Time as an eternal return.” As it happens, cyclical time was also of central importance to early modern Catholic models of law and social change.9 Cosmic perfection was understood to exist eternally in the mind of God, and it had once been materialized: in Eden. Human history since the expulsion from Paradise was therefore a history of degeneration and corruption. As a result, early modern Catholic theories of social transformation were typically premised not on imaginative, progressive schemes for undreamed-of future orders, but on a retrogressive desire to restore social models that had (supposedly) once existed in the past, at Creation.

Renaissance social engineering as restoration was encapsulated in a single powerful concept: reduction. This was not a subtractive theory. Rather, something that was reduced was (in the words of a 1611 Spanish dictionary) “returned [vuelto, from the verb volver] to a better order.”

TO REDUCE. Latin, reducere: to be reduced is to be persuaded. Reduced: convinced, and returned to better order.10

[268]Reduction was an all-encompassing model for early modern change, and reductive strategies were applied to a wide variety of practices in the Old World and the New. Alchemical and metallurgical treatises described the reduction of minerals: methods for restoring them to elemental purity (Biringuccio [1540] 1943: 135; Newman 2006: xiii). Mid-sixteenth-century letters from Spanish spies in England dreamed of the “reduction of England”—that is, the return of Protestant England to the Catholic fold (Froude 1870: 225). Grammars of languages (both European and Native American) “reduced” those languages “to order”—that is, purified them of the corruptions and irregularities that had crept in over the centuries, supposedly restoring them to the relative perfection they possessed when first created after the fall of the tower of Babel. For example, Antonio de Nebrija’s 1492 Grammar of the Castilian language was designed as a project to restore that European tongue to its ancient purity:

This [language] until our era went about loose and outside of rules, and for this reason it has received many changes in only a few centuries; so that if we wanted to compare that of today with that of five hundred years ago, we would find as much difference and diversity as is possible between two languages. And as my thought and desire has always been to ennoble the things of this nation, and to give to the men of my language works in which they can better spend their free time, which now they spend reading novels or stories wrapped in a thousand lies and errors, I decided before all else to artfully reduce (reduzir en artificio) this our Castilian language, so that now and forevermore that which is written in it can keep its meaning, and last for the duration of all the times which are to come, as we see has been done in the languages of Greek and Latin, which by having been placed under art, although many centuries have passed over them, still maintain uniformity. (Nebrija [1492] 1980: 100–101; see also Santo Tomas 1560: Prologue; Reyes 1593: 4; Durston 2007: 44–45)11

Perhaps the most famous application of reductive theory in the sixteenth century was the resettlement of indigenous communities in the Americas (Mumford 2012). These resettlements were called reducciones (‘reductions’ in Spanish) because the city, as an ideal type of spatial order, was thought to have been established by God at Creation. Reducing the spaces in which Native Americans lived was a manner of restoring to them an ancient and ideal form intrinsic to human nature. As University of Salamanca professor Francisco de Vitoria wrote in 1528, “The primitive origin of human cities and commonwealths was not a human invention or contrivance to be numbered among the artifacts of craft, but a device planted by Nature in [269]man for his own safety and survival” (1991: 9; see also Cummins 2002: 200). And so in 1550 (for example) the Emperor Charles V’s wife Isabel wrote to their viceroy in Mexico City with the following proposal for the transformation of indigenous life in New Spain:

That which we all most desire and pray for to God, with great zeal, is that these Indians be well instructed and taught in the things of Our Holy Catholic Faith, and in things humane and politic; and so that they can be truly Christian and politic, as the men of reason that they are, it is necessary that they be congregated and reduced to towns (reduzidos en pueblos) and not live scattered and dispersed in highlands and mountains, which causes them to be deprived of all spiritual and temporal benefit, without being able to have any help or good thing. (Letter dated April 17, 1550; Colección de documentos inéditos 1864–84: 23: 543–44)

Yet the practice of reduction as resettlement was not limited to the Americas. After the failed Second Revolt of the Alpujarras in 1569–71, Muslims in the Iberian kingdom of Granada were uprooted from their homes and resettled in Old Christian communities throughout Castile. It was hoped that by being integrated into majority-Christian communities, Grenadine Muslims would abandon their old religion and ways of life (Caro Baroja 1976; Salvador Esteban 1987). To the east, on the Mediterranean coast, the bishop of Orihuela argued in 1595 that the Muslims of Valencia should also be forced from their homes and resettled. His proposed reshaping of social geography was described as a process of reduction:

It will be of great importance to endeavor to reduce them (reduzirlos) and resettle them in more tightly knit places, so that they cannot spread out so much, or, at least, relocate them to the outskirts of big cities, even mixing them with Old Christians, so that by their communication and treatment they might be trained in the truth of the Faith. (Boronat y Barrachina 1901: 1: 649)

But Muslims were not the only targets for reduction in sixteenth-century Iberia. Old Christian peasants across northern Spain were also reduced into new towns. This act of social engineering is especially ironic, because early modern rhetoric claimed northern Spain as the anchor of Iberia’s Catholic identity: those lands had never fallen under Muslim rule. Nevertheless, a 1587 archbishop’s report on rural Galicia writes:

These parishioners, because there are so few in each of the parishes, for the most part don’t live near the church . . . and if Your Majesty would be served by reducing them (reducirles) into towns, as was done (como se hizo) in the province of Guipúzcoa [in Basque country] . . . it would be the greatest service which one could do for God and also for His Majesty, so that this barbarous people (gente bárbara) should be politic and domestic and taught in the Christian doctrine, which, living as they live now, is impossible. (Ruíz Almansa 1948: 76; partially quoted in Alberro 1994: 253)12[270]

Perhaps the most spectacular—and far-reaching—Renaissance scheme of reduction involved the Christian calendar itself. We are still living in its reductive framework. And this calendric history allows us to expand the arguments of Fabian and Trouillot by studying the strange process through which a sacred model of eschatological time became secularized.

The most curious historie of the Western calendar

Europeans had long realized that their Julian calendar of 365 days was slowly drifting relative to the lunar and solar cycles. This temporal drift was especially vexing because of the implications it had for correctly calculating the date of Christ’s Resurrection: Easter Sunday. In order to remedy this cosmic misalignment, the final session of the (Catholic) Council of Trent in 1563 mandated calendar reform. A number of mathematicians and astronomers offered different temporal solutions over the next decades (Ziggelaar 1983). In 1579, for example, royal clockmaker Juanelo Turriano wrote a letter to King Philip II of Spain outlining his own proposal for temporal transformation. Appropriately, it was titled Brief discourse to his Majesty the Catholic King on the subject of the reduction of the year and the reform of the calendar. In the opening pages, Turriano wrote that “in order to give remedy, then, to this disorder, it is necessary in the first place to rectify the past; and after to find a way that may not follow in the same manner in the future” ([1579] 1990: 61).

The reduction of the calendar is a perfect illustration of reductive temporality: the claim that innovation was restoration.13 At the time of its first creation, the Julian calendar was synchronized with the movements of the sun and moon. Over the centuries, however, this human creation had become corrupted, disjointed from the cycles of natural world. The remedy was a reduction of the calendar—which of course was not really a restoration of the Julian calendar, but rather the promulgation of a new calendar, the Gregorian. And so by papal decree “the reduction of the year and the reform of the calendar” began on October 15, 1582. Philip II, King of Spain, was one of the monarchs to accept this change, and so (for example) a copy of the decree implementing the reduction was printed in the Spanish viceroyalty of Peru. It explained how the Calendar (capital-K Kalendario) had been reformed “to reduce the Easter of the Resurrection, and the other movable feasts, to the proper and correct point of their first and ancient institution, as you will see by the said Calendar.”14 And so the Julian calendar was reduced.

Reduced, at least, within the Catholic world. For early modern Europe was anything but a hegemonic and homogeneous West. Violent conflicts between Catholics [271]and Protestants, and among Protestants of various stripes, soaked the lands north of the Mediterranean with blood for three long centuries (Kaplan 2007). This sectarian violence made it initially impossible for a papally approved transformation of time to be accepted in Protestant lands. The Catholic reduction of the Julian calendar was, in many places, rejected. As a result, for almost two hundred years the calendrical history of Europe—and its overseas possessions—was fundamentally asynchronous. It was neither homogeneous, nor empty.

But this violent European history is, oddly, not really addressed by either Fabian or Trouillot. Fabian, as we saw above, suggests that “universal Time was probably established concretely and politically in the Renaissance.” In contrast, I would say that it was established concretely, in the Gregorian reform project, but hardly politically—indeed, the politics of religion prevented universal time from being implemented throughout the balkanized West. Trouillot, after describing the fall of the Iberian Muslim kingdom of Granada in 1492, writes that “as Christendom became Europe, Europe itself became Christian”—which is a strange smoothing-over of three centuries of religious violence in the lands north of the Mediterranean, a violence that, you will remember, led to the early death of Petrus Ramus. Indeed, to many Catholics, sixteenth-century Europe was not becoming Christian. Because of the Protestant Reformation, large parts of France, the Germanies, and England were instead becoming Satanic.

Nearly two centuries passed. England did not officially accept the reduced Gregorian calendar until 1752. This was also when the English New Year cycle was legislated to begin on January 1, and not (as had long been the custom) on March 25. These two changes are related, but distinct.

First, the New Year. Most of (Catholic) Europe (and the Iberian Americas as well) had been observing the New Year’s year-change on January 1 since the middle of the sixteenth century. (In the Middle Ages, continental Europeans often began their New Year calendars on Christmas Day, December 25).15 The January 1 dating method was long known in England as well, used informally by diarists and almanac makers (Birth 2013). Nevertheless, for centuries the British legal year began on March 25, Lady Day: that is, the Feast of the Annunciation of the Virgin, a commemoration of the Angel Gabriel’s visit to Mary with the news she had been impregnated by God. Appropriately, this Feast was situated exactly nine months before Christ’s Nativity on December 25.16

One consequence of the coexistence of these two Euroamerican systems for starting the New Year was the practice of dually-dating documents from the months of January, February, and March. Slash-dated tombstones from New England are [272]an amazing visualization of the turbulence caused by the conflicting co-presence of two discordant temporal regimes. Three years before the reduction of the British calendar, 28-year-old Justus Johnson died in what is now Connecticut. But since he died on January 20, his spectacular gravestone records two possible years for his death: 1748 and 1749 (Figure 2).

Figure 2
Figure 2: Dually dated tombstone (1748/9) of Justus Johnson, from Wallingford, Connecticut. (Photo courtesy of the American Antiquarian Society.)

This temporal rift was closed shortly after Parliament passed the “Calendar (New Style) Act of 1750.” It decreed that January 1 would be the official date for the start of the New Year beginning in 1752. The text of the Act has a pointedly global frame of reference, and begins:

In and throughout all his Majesty’s dominions and countries in Europe, Asia, Africa, and America, belonging or subject to the crown of Great Britain, the said suppuration, according to which the year of our Lord beginneth on the twenty-fifth day of March, shall not be made use of from and after the last day of December one thousand seven hundred and fifty-one; and that the first day of January next following the said last day of December shall be reckoned, taken, deemed, and accounted to be the first of the year of our Lord one thousand seven hundred and fifty-two; and the first day of January which shall happen next after the said first day of January one thousand seven hundred and fifty-two shall be reckoned, taken, deemed, and accounted to be the first day of the year of our Lord one thousand seven hundred and fifty-three; and so on from time to time the [273]first day of January in every year which shall happen in time to come shall be reckoned, taken, deemed, and accounted to be the first day of the year.17

The same Act also (finally) implemented the reduced Gregorian calendar throughout the British Empire, so that the day following September 2, 1752 would not be September 3, but September 14:

The natural day next immediately following the said second day of September shall be called, reckoned, and accounted to be the fourteenth day of September, omitting for that time only the eleven intermediate nominal days of the common calendar; and that the several natural days which shall follow and succeed next after the said fourteenth day of September shall be respectively called, reckoned, and numbered forwards in numerical order from the said fourteenth day of September, according to the order and succession of days now used in the present calendar.

Although the working-class “Calendar Riots” of 1752 are a myth invented in the nineteenth century (Poole 1995), this calendric reform was used in Oxfordshire as political ammunition against its supporters. Propagandistic songs joined anti-Catholicism to anti-Semitism in their attacks: clearly, the papal origins of the reformed calendar had not been forgotten. One song even changed the date of the reform from 1752 to 1753 in order to make a rhyme with “Popery”:

In seventeen hundred and fifty-three,
The style was changed to P-p-ry,18
But that it is lik’d, we don’t all agree;
    Which nobody can deny.

When the country folk first heard of this act,
That old father style was condemned to be rack’d,
And robb’d of his time, which appears to be fact,
    Which nobody can deny;

It puzzl’d their brains, their senses perplex’d,
And all the old ladies were very much vex’d,
Not dreaming that Levites would alter our text;
    Which nobody can deny.19

This provincial attitude was, in turn, lampooned in William Hogarth’s 1755 An election entertainment (Figure 3), which includes a fallen banner inscribed “Give us our eleven days” in the foreground (Figure 4).[275]

Figure 3
Figure 3: William Hogarth, An election entertainment, 1775. (Engraving from 1861; Hogarth 1861: facing page 125).
Figure 4
Figure 4: “Give us our eleven days” banner in the foreground of William Hogarth, An election entertainment, 1775. (Engraving from 1861; Hogarth 1861: facing page 125).

Indeed, the still-sensitive religious connections of the Gregorian calendar were such that the Calendar (New Style) Act of 1750 also outlined a new method for calculating Easter Sunday—the sacred feast of renewal whose correct timing, you will remember, prompted the original project of Gregorian reform back in the 1500s. Strategically, however, the Calendar Act’s method for calculating Easter Sunday was different from that used by the Catholic Church—although its results were identical (see Calendar Act of 1750, section 3: “Easter and the other moveable feasts to be observed according to the new calendar, tables and rules. Feast and fasts, etc. to be according to the new calendar”).

In other words, it took nearly two hundred years for a Protestant-majority England—and its dominions throughout the world—to accept a papally approved reduction of the calendar. Returning to Fabian and Trouillot, this means that (in European intellectual history) the desacralization of an eschatological model of sacred time from the fifteenth to the eighteenth centuries took place in paradoxical tandem with passionate debates over the religious implications of an astronomically correct, yet papally approved, project of calendrical correction. And even in its “Enlightened” Protestant-English-eighteenth-century manifestation, a central concern of calendar reform was timing the feast of Christ’s Resurrection. To speak of this as temporal desacralization seems incorrect. It was instead another conjugation of the sacred.

This paradox becomes clearer if we borrow a page from Talal Asad’s Genealogies of religion (1993), and track how the Gregorian calendar reforms are discussed across time in the Encyclopaedia Britannica. Volume 1 of the first edition (printed in 1771, two decades after Britain’s Calendar Act) discusses the Gregorian calendar under Astronomy. “This new form of the year is called the Gregorian account, or new style; which is received in all countries where the pope’s authority is acknowledged, and ought to be in all places where truth is regarded” (Encyclopaedia Britannica 1771: 1: 490). In other words, the Catholic origins of this system are openly acknowledged, and also acknowledged—and snidely dismissed—is the idea that these origins may still pose an intellectual-emotional problem for some narrow-minded Protestants.20

This sarcastic commentary is repeated in the second edition, but then in the third, fourth, and fifth editions (1788–97, 1801–10, 1815–17) the controversial nature of the reforms is not mentioned directly. All that is said is that they were adopted in Britain by royal decree in 1752. The next major development in Encyclopaedia Britannica’s religiously charged vision of time appears in the seventh edition of 1830–42. There we learn that “the Gregorian method of intercalation has been adopted in all Christian countries, Russia excepted” (Encyclopaedia Britannica 1830–42: 6: 6). All Christian countries. Four decades into the nineteenth century, it became possible for Encyclopaedia Britannica writers to imagine a united chronological Christendom—an ecumenical vision that reformations and [276]counterreformations had made impossible since the early sixteenth century.21 This characterization of the Gregorian calendar as “adopted in all Christian countries, Russia excepted,” would be maintained in every subsequent edition for the next century-plus. As late as the revised printing of 1953, we read that this is a calendar “which has been received in almost all Christian countries under the name of the Gregorian Calendar or New Style”—by this time Russia (as the officially atheist Soviet Union, something noted later in the entry) had also adopted the system (Encyclopaedia Britannica 1953: 4: 570, 572).

It was not until Encyclopaedia Britannica’s 1964 printing that the Christian identity of the Gregorian calendar was finally ignored, replaced by a global vision. The entry for Calendar begins: “a word derived from the Latin kalendae (calends), literally, the day on which the accounts are due. It now refers to an accounting, usually for civil purposes, of days and other divisions of time. The calendar now used for civil purposes throughout the world is called the Gregorian calendar, after Pope Gregory XIII, who introduced it in the 16th century” (Encyclopaedia Britannica 1964: 4: 611). Thus the Christian is replaced by the civil, throughout the world—and, suggestively, the 1964 printing is also the first to report the myth of Britain’s Calendar Riots as fact (harkening back to the snarky commentary on the very existence of religious debates about calendar reform that appeared in Encyclopaedia Britannica’s first edition):

Great Britain, too, took a long time to make the change. In 1751, however, a Calendar (New Style) act was passed and the Gregorian calendar was thenceforth to be used for all legal and public business. . . . Many people did not understand the nature of the change and were under the misapprehension that they were being cheated in some way: riots ensued with the slogan “give us back our eleven days.” (Encyclopaedia Britannica 1964: 4: 619)

In other words, it was not until the final third of the twentieth century that the Gregorian calendar was secularized, and made global, in the pages of Encylopaedia Britannica. It is perhaps no accident that this coincided with a moment of world decolonization—or that Britannica’s initial 1842 claims about the Gregorian calendar’s ecumenical “Christian” identity appeared near the start of the second age of European imperialism, in which Christian missionizations of all kinds were often handmaidens to colonization (Comaroff and Comaroff 1991; Stocking 1991). None of which means that relations between sacred and temporal imaginations did not change across the centuries from 1500 to 1900: clearly they did (Burke 1966: 77–104; Fasolt 2004; Nagel and Wood 2010). Rather, my point is that temporal secularization, like the concept of the secular itself, is much stranger and less linear in its genealogies than Occidentalist common sense would assume (Asad 2003; Casanova 2006, 2011).22

How to chronologize with a hammer

Four decades after England and its overseas possessions finally synchronized their calendars with the rest of Euroamerica—but not before that synchronization was imagined as free from religious connotations—the French Revolution attempted to establish a new system of timekeeping entirely stripped of Christian influence: twelve months of three ten-day weeks, each day decimally divided into smaller and smaller units of time; an extra five-day period at the end of the year; Day 1 beginning on the fall equinox (Andrews 1931; Zerubavel 1977). This calendar barely survived a decade (1793–1805), with a brief revival by the Paris Commune in 1871. But it is evoked by Walter Benjamin in the fifteenth section of his 1940 “Über den Begriff der Geschichte,” immediately after he introduces his criticisms (in sections XIII and XIV) of “homogeneous, empty time”:

What characterizes the revolutionary classes at their moment of action is the awareness that they are about to make the continuum of history explode. The Great Revolution introduced a new calendar. The initial day of a calendar presents history in time-lapse mode. And basically it is this same day that keeps recurring in the guise of holidays, which are days of remembrance [Tage des Eingedenkens]. Thus, calendars do not measure time the way clocks do; they are monuments of a historical consciousness of which not the slightest trace has been apparent in Europe, it would seem, for the past hundred years. In the July Revolution [1830] an incident occurred in which this consciousness came into its own. On the first evening of fighting, it so happened that the dials on clocktowers were being fired at simultaneously and independently from several locations in Paris. An eyewitness, who may have owed his insight to the rhyme, wrote as follows:

Qui le croirait! on dit, qu’irrités contre l’heure
De nouveaux Josués, au pied de chaque tour
Tiraient sur les cadrans pour arrêter le jour.

[Who would believe it! It is said that, incensed at the hour,
Latter-day Joshuas, at the foot of every clocktower,
Were firing on clock faces to make the day stand still.] (Benjamin 2003: 395)

“Modern Western” models of time-consciousness are often described as examples of Benjamin’s “homogeneous, empty time”—most influentially by Benedict Anderson in his Imagined communities (1983). But as Benjamin makes clear, this approach to thinking about time—which he despised—was only a possible temporal model: hardly universal, and with important challenges in the then-recent history of Europe.23 Benjamin’s counterexamples in section XV (from the 1790s and the 1830s) bring forward in time the strange history of Western timekeeping that we have been following since the sixteenth century.[278]

In the final sections of his essay, Benjamin offers practical models for writing histories that avoid frameworks of homogeneous, empty time. Rather than structuring histories as a rosary (in which one event follows another in tedious sequence), Benjamin proposes the constellation, in which moments present and past are juxtaposed in Eisensteinian montage:

Historicism contents itself with establishing a causal nexus among various moments in history. But no state of affairs having causal significance is for that very reason historical. It became historical posthumously, as it were, through events that may be separated from it by thousands of years. The historian who proceeds from this consideration ceases to tell the sequence of events like the beads of a rosary. He grasps the constellation into which his own era has entered, along with a very specific earlier one. Thus, he establishes a conception of the present as now-time shot through with splinters of messianic time. (Benjamin 2003[1940]: 397)

In the previous sections of this occasional essay, I argued that it is a mistake to regard the Gregorian calendar used throughout the world today as a simple vehicle for the imposition of homogeneous, empty time. That perspective is only possible if we ignore its history—the centuries-long dissonance between the cycles of the reduced Gregorian calendar in the Catholic world and the unrevised Julian calendar in the Protestant world—and accept “Western Chronology” as nothing more than a passive background for stringing rosary-bead events together. This backgrounding is also the fatal flaw of attempts to rebaptize the BC/AD dating system with BCE and CE: this strategy tries to secularize and naturalize a framework that is profoundly religious and artificial (see also Fasolt 2004: 19).24 Rather than trying to neutralize and homogenize (and universalize!) the Gregorian calendar in our historic work, it is far more productive to borrow a technique from Friedrich Nietzsche—who was of course a constant point of reference for Benjamin, and who makes an appearance in section XII of “Über den Begriff der Geschichte.” That is (adapting Nietzsche’s opening remarks in Twilight of the idols, Or, How to philosophize with a hammer), we should take a hammer to the temporal idol that is the framework of Christian chronology: not to smash it, but to make it ring.25[279]

I outline two such soundings here.

First, we can pay attention to situations in which the universality of the “Western calendar” is revealed as simple provincialism: times and places where that calendar functions alongside other, alternative systems of time reckoning.26 A number of examples survive from sixteenth-century Spanish America, such as the dually dated dedication stone of the Dominican monastery of Cuilapan in the Valley of Oaxaca (Figure 5). On the left, the still-Julian year-date of 1555 is juxtaposed with the Mesoamerican year-date of 10 Reed. On the right, however (and in telling contrast, given that the stone was carved by Native Americans), only a Mesoamerican date is used: Year 10 Flint.

Figure 5
Figure 5: Dedication stone for the Dominican monastery in Cuilapan, Valley of Oaxaca, 1555/Year 10 Reed. (Photo by the author.)

Another, parallel example is found in Sanjay Subrahmanyam’s aforementioned essay on apocalypticism and connected histories. In the anno domini 1581, a dialogue about the end of the world took place in Afghanistan between Mughal ruler Jalal al-Din Muhammad Akbar and Portuguese Jesuit António Monserrate. This conversation, Subrahmanyam argues, is best understood by reference not to the about-to-be-reduced Julian calendar, but rather to the Islamic Hijrī calendar, according to which it was a mere eleven years before the potentially apocalyptic year 1000:

This incident, a trivial one, begins to assume significance when set in its wider regional and supra-regional context. For a millenarian conjuncture operated over a good part of the Old World in the sixteenth century and was the backdrop to such discussions as that between Akbar and Monserrate, which took place just eleven years before the year 1000 A.H. (1591–92). This was a time when many Muslims in southern and western Asia, as well as North Africa anxiously awaited signs that the end of the world was nigh, and when the Most Catholic Monarch, Philip II of Spain, [280]equally wrote gloomily: “If this is not the end of the world, I think we must be very close to it; and, please God, let it be the end of the whole world, and not just the end of Christendom.”. . . Akbar and Monserrate could and did converse on the impending End of the World (or qiyâmat, from an Indo-Persian viewpoint). (Subrahmanyam 1997: 747–48)

Awareness that the Western Christian calendar is only one of many coexisting chronological systems is hardly limited to the connected histories of early modernity. It is manifested in many parts of our world today. On the front pages of newspapers, for example. I’m writing this on the fall equinox: the Gregorian date of Wednesday, September 23, 2015. But if we look at today’s issue of Iran’s Kayhan (Figure 6), we see that it offers readers three different dating systems, printed one after the other at the right-hand side of the blue band running across the upper page. First is Cahâršanbe 1 Mehr 1394, a date in the Solar Hijrī calendar used in Iran and Afghanistan. Then is 9 Dhu al-Hijjah 1436, a date in the Islamic Hijrī calendar used throughout the Muslim world. Finally, as a third option, is the Gregorian September 23, 2015—written in Farsi.27[281]

Figure 6
Figure 6: Front page of Kayhan (Tehran), Wednesday, September 23, 2015.

Moving to North Korea, Rodong Sinmun’s front page dating (Figure 7) begins with the year Juche 104 (a system introduced in 1997, taking 1912 as its Year One—the birth-year of former president Kim Il-Sung). This is followed by a parenthetical 2015, then “month 9” and “day 23” information in mixed Arabic numerals and Korean script (9월 23일), and finally the day of the week (수요일).28[283]

Figure 7
Figure 7: Front page of Rodong Sinmun (Pyongyang), Wednesday, September 23, 2015.

To the south, in Taiwan, the bestselling Liberty Times presents headline dates first in the Gregorian calendar (in mixed Chinese script and Arabic numerals: 2015 年9月23日, or Year 2015, Month 9, Day 23), then the day of the week with both words and numbers in Chinese (星期三: the third day, Wednesday), and finally the date in the Chinese lunisolar calendar, again with words and numbers in Chinese: the Year of the Sheep (乙未年), the eighth month (八月), the eleventh day (十一 日).29

And lest these examples make it seem like only in “non-Western” nation-states is the supremacy of Gregorian hegemony challenged, consider the World Journal, a Chinese-language newspaper printed in a number of cities in Canada and the United States, including Chicago (Figure 8). A red box near the top of the page juxtaposes no less than four calendrical systems. The list begins, in the first line of text, with the 104th year of the Mínguó or Chinese Republican Calendar, counted from 1912 (the year the Chinese Republic was founded, a system still used in Taiwan—mainland China stopped using this calendar in 1949).30 This date is followed, as we also saw on the Liberty Times, with a mixed Chinese script and Arabic numerals presentation of the Gregorian year, month, day, and day of the week: 2015 年9月23日 星期三. The same reckoning is repeated in English in the second line (using the Latin alphabet and Arabic numerals): WEDNESDAY, SEPTEMBER 23, 2015. Finally, again like the Liberty Times, the third line presents time according to the Chinese lunisolar calendar (農曆): the Year of the Sheep (乙未年), the eighth month (八月), the eleventh day (十一日).31

Figure 8
Figure 8: Front page of World Journal (Chicago), Wednesday, September 23, 2015.

It is certainly true that all of these examples include the Gregorian calendar as one point of reference. But it is also true—and not insignificant—that only in Taiwan is this chronological system presented to readers as their first temporal option.[284]

As an alternative sounding, the rhythms of the “Western calendar” (or, indeed, of any calendar) can be used to recognize connective constellations between what may, at first, seem to be unrelated events. And this brings us once again to newspapers, although via a provincial and (admittedly) unintentional example: Benedict Anderson’s evocation of The New York Times early in Imagined communities:

What is the essential literary convention of the newspaper? If we were to look at a sample front page of, say, The New York Times, we might find there stories about Soviet dissidents, famine in Mali, a gruesome murder, a coup in Iraq, the discovery of a rare fossil in Zimbabwe, and a speech by Mitterrand. Why are these events so juxtaposed? What connects them to each other? Not sheer caprice. Yet obviously most of them happen independently, without the actors being aware of each other or what the others are up to. The arbitrariness of their inclusion and juxtaposition (a later edition will substitute a baseball triumph for Mitterrand) shows that the linkage between them is imagined.

This imagined linkage derives from two obliquely related sources. The first is simply calendrical coincidence. The date at the top of the newspaper, the single most important emblem on it, provides the essential connection—the steady onward clocking of homogeneous, empty time. Within that time, “the world” ambles sturdily ahead. . . . The second source of imagined linkage lies in the relationship between the newspaper, as a form of book, and the market. . . . The obsolescence of the newspaper on the morrow of its printing . . . creates this extraordinary mass ceremony: the almost precisely simultaneous consumption (“imagining”) of the newspaper-as-fiction. We know that particular morning and evening editions will be overwhelmingly consumed between this hour and that, only on this day, not that. (Anderson 1983: 37–39)

Anderson’s focus is not on the juxtaposed events themselves, but on the effects of daily newspaper reading in producing national citizens (an “extraordinary mass ceremony . . . creating that remarkable confidence of community in anonymity which is the hallmark of modern nations”; ibid.: 39–40).32 But date-frameworks, arbitrary as they are, can also—if made to ring—reveal connections and parallels hidden by obsessively geographic frames of reference. It should not be hard to imagine taking Anderson’s front page, circa 1983 (the year of the first edition of Imagined communities), and going behind the headlines, as it were, to trace out the degrees of separation through which contemporary events in the Soviet Union, Mali, Iraq, Zimbabwe, and France were in fact linked.33 Like the connected-history approach offered by Subrahmanyam for early modern Eurasia, Anderson’s headlines could be used to tell a story that undercuts simple binaries of North/South, West/Rest, and indeed the nationalist boundaries still central to how the past and present are imagined.

Or—to take an example from the early modern Mediterratlantic world—consider the anno domini 1521. In August of that year, the Aztec capital of Tenochtitlan [286]was conquered by a coalition of European and Native American warriors orchestrated by Hernán Cortés (remember Figure 1, which takes place one year earlier). At the same time, across the Atlantic, a civil war in Mediterranean Valencia between the landed aristocracy and middle-class city-dwellers (many of who were members of guilds, or germanías) was entering its third year. That summer, following victories in a number of cities, the agermanados forcibly baptized thousands of Muslim vassals living on noble estates. In part, this was an attempt to diminish elite domination of the Valencian countryside. But the mass-conversions were also caught up in apocalyptic dreams and a desire to precipitate global religious unification—and so trigger the Last Judgment (Pérez García and Catalá Sanz 2000; Benítez Sánchez-Blanco 2001: 30–31). The agermanados were soon defeated, but the legacies of their rebellion troubled Valencia for nearly a century. The legality of the forced baptisms was suspect from the beginning, but in the end baptism, as a reductive transformation, had indelible effects.34 And so to resolve these doubts, late in 1525 Emperor Charles V issued a proclamation declaring the baptisms to be irreversible. As a result, all of Valencia’s Muslims—regardless of whether or not they had been touched by holy water in the summer of 1521—were to henceforth live as Christians. On both sides of the Atlantic, 1521 marked the start of religious conversions and cultural transformations. The fall of Tenochtitlan and the mass-baptism of Valencia’s Muslims were not directly related in any causative sense, but the simultaneity of their occurrence reveals a great deal in terms of broader changes within in the Spanish empire (Hamann 2011). The conversion of Muslims to Catholicism in the Kingdoms of Aragon was not a background precedent for the conversion of Native Americans to Catholicism in the Americas: both transformations were going on at the same time, and would reverberate through the rest of the sixteenth century. Taking a hammer to “1521,” then, reveals a sympathetic resonance across the Mediterratlantic world, a constellation of events and consequences ignored by histories obsessively focused on one side of the Atlantic or the other.


During the Q&A of the AAA session at which these ideas were first presented, one audience member quoted Benjamin’s “homogeneous, empty time” as a fundamental, and perhaps insurmountable, problem for any anthropological approach to time undertaken within the Western academic tradition. That 2013 commentary prompted me to reframe, and retitle, this essay.

Western temporality as inescapably “homogeneous, empty time” is a myth. The Gregorian calendar was, in its origins, a project for sacred (re)alignments. That sacred connotation has only recently been forgotten—but it was very much at issue when this calendric system was first promulgated, as well as when it was imposed on much of the world by Christian imperial projects. Gregorian-Western time has also always been a coeval temporality. That is, in addition to desecularizing our [287]assumptions about Western time, it is important to provincialize them. The Gregorian calendar is obviously used throughout much of the world today—but even now in many places it is only one of several concurrent chronological options. This has been true, globally, across five centuries. To chronologize with a hammer is not to escape or ignore globally distributed Gregorian-Western time, but to make that temporal system resound with all of its forgotten alterity and strangeness: using its resonances to reveal connections between distant locales that might otherwise go unnoticed; allowing its reverberations to be simultaneously challenged by the dissonance of other, coeval practices for conceptualizing the structures of chronology.


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Comment temporaliser avec un marteau, ou Le mythe du temps homogène et vide

Résumé : La temporalité moderne occidentale est souvent caractérisée comme un “temps homogène et vide” (l’expression est de Walter Benjamin). Cette temporalité est considérée être le produit (d’après les travaux importants de Johannes Fabian et Michel-Rolph Trouillot, par exemple) d’un processus de sécularisation du temps judéo-chrétien, entamé à la Renaissance et achevé avec les Lumières. En prenant Fabian et Trouillot comme point de départ, cet essai se penche sur les cinq derniers siècles d’histoire chronologique occidentale. Il y est suggéré que la sécularisationn temporelle est bien moins linéaire (et beaucoup plus récente) que le sens commun occidentaliste le suppose. Vue l’étrangeté de l’’Ere Commune” du calendrier Grégorien—au rythme duquel une large partie du monde structure actuellement son temps—deux modèles sont présentés pour soulever la question de l’héritage complexe de ce calendrier. Comme Nietzsche, on peut bénéficier d’une attaque de l’idole de la chronologie occidentale à coups de marteau: non pas pour la détruire, mais pour la faire sonner.

Byron Ellsworth HAMANN holds a dual Ph.D. in Anthropology and History from the University of Chicago. His research focuses on the art and writing of pre-Hispanic Mesoamerica, as well as the connections linking the Americas and Europe in the early modern Mediterratlantic world. He is an editor of Grey Room (www.greyroom. org); codirector (with Liza Bakewell) of Mesolore: Exploring Mesoamerican culture (www.mesolore.org); project manager (for Dana Leibsohn and Barbara Mundy) of Vistas: Visual culture in Spanish America, 1520–1820 (http://vistas-visual-culture.net); and author of The translations of Nebrija: Language, culture, and circulation in the early modern world (University of Massachusetts Press, 2015).

Byron Ellsworth Hamann
History of Art
Ohio State University
Columbus, OH 43210


1. In addition to Stocking, Fabian, and Trouillot, the work of Marshall Sahlins has been a key point of reference for my own historical-ethnographic work on the early modern world (Hamann 2002, 2008, 2016). His absence here is simply because Fabian and Trouillot dwell more on the sixteenth century and its chronological legacies—and had appropriately symbolic book publications aligned with the year 2013. That said, I urge the reader to seek out Sahlins’ aphorisms on the Renaissance as an “invention of tradition” (1999: 7–8), the “Digression: Renaissance notes” section of “The sadness of sweetness” (1996: 399–400), and the footnote on statues and statues in Culture and practical reason (1976: 20).

2. The characterizations of modern Western time by Fabian and Trouillot are frequently cited by anthropologists, usually as a contrastive starting point for alternative temporal models in other traditions. For recent quotations by anthropologists of Fabian on secularized modern Western time, see Birth (2008: 9); Delaney with Kaspin (2011: 91); Petschelies (2012: 309–10); Ferraris (2014: 184). For recent quotations by anthropologists of Trouillot on modern Western time, see Bainton (2010: 8); Dawdy (2010: 763); Palmié (2014: 222). More examples from anthropology could be cited—to say nothing (as any Internet search quickly reveals) of the influence that these temporal arguments have had outside of anthropology, in the disciplines of history, literary studies, philosophy, even nursing. More generally, see also Carrier (1992: 199–207); Hirsch and Stewart (2005).

3. For subjective temporal perceptions, see also Gell (1992) on “A-series time,” as well as Hodges’ (2008) discussion of anthropological temporal models by Gell, Munn, and philosophies of temporal perception more broadly.

4. Trouillot’s point of reference is Reinhart Koselleck’s Futures past: On the semantics of historical time, published in English translation in 1985 (Trouillot 2003: 37–39, 68).

5. The literature on early modern apocalypticism, in the Americas as well as in Muslim and Christian Eurasia, is extensive: see also Columbus ([1501–2] 1991: 65–69, 105–11); Reubeni (1930); Watts (1985); Gruzinski (1989); Crouzet (1990: 1: 182–91); Fleischer (1992); Harkness (1999); Pérez García and Catalá Sanz (2000); Benítez Sánchez-Blanco (2001: 30–31); Hamann (2002, 2006, 2008); Ng (2006); Green-Mercado (2013).

6. Many reasons could be given for the pan-hemispheric nature of millennial anxieties in the early modern period. Developments in navigation technologies meant that millennial ideas (and leaders: Reubeni 1930) could travel in unprecedented ways, and those same technologies for crossing distance gave birth to multiple global empires whose rulers made claims to universal authority (most famously, the Ottomans and Habsburgs; Hess 1978; Fleischer 1992). Radical religious transformations also took place across multiple hemispheres: the expulsion of Jews from Iberia and the forced conversions of the peninsula’s centuries-old Muslim population (Hamann 2010, 2011; Green-Mercado 2013); the missionization of the Americas and, simultaneously, of Europe’s own peasantry (Gruzinski 1989; Prosperi 1995; Selwyn 1997; Cummins 2002; Rico Callado 2002; Hanks 2010); the development of Protestantism in northern Europe and the rise of the Safavids in Persia (Hamann 2006; Kaplan 2007; Green-Mercado 2013: 210). Finally, destabilizing changes in population are also relevant, and also involve multiple hemispheres: Europe’s population had finally returned to its numbers from before the Black Death (one possible reason for the German peasant’s revolt); plagues brought literally apocalyptic mass deaths in the Americas (Blickle 1981).

7. Ironically, these originally Catholic theories are still alive and well in the minds of Protestant fundamentalists. Shortly after the tenth anniversary of a certain day in September 2001, Pat Roberston declared on The 700 Club that in the Last Days “there will be a returning of the Jewish people to their Messiah” (video from September 13, 2011, posted at http://www.rightwingwatch.org/content/robertson-jews-must-convert-christianityusher-end-times, accessed June 10, 2016). On pre-Y2K Protestant fundamentalist tourism in Israel, see Katz (1999); on Protestant millenarianism today, see Robbins (2007).

8. “Muchas vezes les rogo que le diessen fauor para bautizar los moriscos y ellos le respondian q[ue] no era t[iem]po agora q[ue] los dexasse” (British Library, Egerton MS. 1832, 58r; emphasis—using underlining—in the original).

9. See also Burke (1966: 87–89; 2002: 17–19).

10. “REDVZIR, Latinê reducere: reduzirse, es conuencerse. Reduzido, conuencido, y buelto a mejor orden” (Covarrubias y Orozco 1611: 5r; second foliation). Covarrubias’ definition has been cited before, but the fundamental importance of temporal restoration implied by the use of the verb volver (“vuelto a mejor orden”) has been overlooked. Previous translations include “convinced and brought to a better order” (Cummins 2002: 201; Rappaport and Cummins 2012: 221–27) and “convinced and put in better order” (Hanks 2010: 2).

11. Over a century later, Nebrija’s perspective appears shattered into two philological visions as part of an early-seventeenth-century debate over the historical linguistics of Castilian: did Castilian develop historically out of Latin (thus raising the specter of its status as a debasement of an earlier tongue), or was it instead one of the languages that emerged complete at the Tower of Babel, and which had remained pure since its moment of creation (Woolard 2004)?

12. Contrast Greer, Mignolo, and Quilligan (2007: 14): “But of course, it was impossible for Las Casas to think that Christian Spaniards would belong to any category of barbarian, as he was operating on the premise of the superiority of Western Christians.”

13. This is not a phenomenon limited to early modern Europe: “Conscious and radical innovation is . . . possible, but it may be suggested that it can be legitimized in only a few ways. It may be disguised as a return to, or rediscovery of, some part of the past which has been mistakenly forgotten or abandoned” (Hobsbawm 1972: 4, as part of an epic transhistorical essay on the past as “a permanent dimension of the human consciousness”).

14. “Reformado el Kale[n]dario para reduzir la Pascua de la Resurrection, y las otras fiestas mouiles, al justo y verdadero puncto de su primera, y antigua institucion, como lo vereys por el dicho Kalendario” (Pragmatica 1584: 2v).

15. In France, Charles IX established January 1 as the official start of the New Year in 1564 (Chasles 1725: 176). Although I have not been able to find a similar decree for the Spanish empire, in Madrid, at least, January 1 was being used as the official New Year by the early 1550s. The change from December 25 seems to have taken place later in at least some parts of the Spanish Americas (Millares Carlo 1932: 296; Almeyda 1941; Artiles 1942: 204–5).

16. The idea of variable dates for starting annual chronologies is still with us: university academic years typically vary in their timing from year to year, and fiscal calendars seldom begin on January 1.

17. http://www.legislation.gov.uk/apgb/Geo2/24/23/section/1 (accessed June 10, 2016).

18. This style of hyphenated word abbreviation—which Henry Fielding referred to as “disemvoweling”—was common in satirical literature from England in the eighteenth century: it titillated the reader, encouraged decoding, and was believed by some (incorrectly, as legal history reveals) to shield writers from accusations of libel (see Bricker 2014; thanks to David Brewer for this reference).

19. Poole (1995: 133); for anti-Catholic commentaries in the period’s almanacs, see Birth (2013). See also Handler (this collection) for resistance to chronological homogenization in the late nineteenth-century United States.

20. Catholic–Protestant religious violence had hardly ended in 1770s Britain (or in Europe generally: see Kaplan 2007). In 1778, the British Parliament passed the “Papists Act”—which, despite its name, was actually intended to ameliorate the legal persecution of Roman Catholics. But many Protestants felt otherwise, and the result was anti-Catholic rioting in 1779 and 1780 (Rudé 1956; Toit 2001).

21. Christendom had been divided into Eastern and Western halves from the eleventh century, but even that break did not preclude visions of unification, as the 1438–1439 Councils of Florence and Ferrara make clear (Nagel and Wood 2010: 101–104).

22. Put in another way, Koselleck and Trouillot both claim that modernity involves a changed, secularized perception of time; my interest here is how the possibility of secularized visions of the Gregorian calendar must also involve a forgetting of the religious origins of this now globally distributed system—a forgetting that is fairly recent. By analogy, see Buck-Morss (2009: 10–40).

23. For critiques of Anderson’s use of Benjamin, see Kelly and Kaplan (2001: 37–40); Woolard (2004).

24. And if bce and ce are used as abbreviations for “Before Common Era” and “Common Era,” they are also condemned to complicity with a (superficial and unconvincing) denial of European conquest and colonization—which was the process by which a very provincial, originally Catholic model of timekeeping was enforced as a “common” standard throughout the world (see also Barak 2013). Alternatively, if the abbreviations are understood as referring to a “Current Era,” this relegates other calendrical systems (such as the Hijrī) to an outdated past (a far too common rhetorical move where Islam is concerned: Davis 2008).

25. “A different convalescence, possibly even more desirable to me, is to sound out idols. . . . There are more idols than realities in the world: that is my ‘evil eye’ for this world; it is also my ‘evil ear’. . . . Here for once to ask questions with a hammer and, perhaps, to hear in response that famous hollow sound which speaks of swollen innards—what a delight for one who has ears even behind his ears, for the old psychologist and Pied Piper that I am, who makes the very things that would rather keep quiet pipe up. . . . This work, too—the title betrays it—is above all a recuperation, a sunspot, a sideways leap into the idleness of a psychologist. Perhaps also a new war? And are new idols being sounded out? . . . This little work is a great declaration of war and as far as sounding out idols is concerned, this time it is not contemporary idols but eternal idols that are being touched here with a hammer as if with a tuning fork—there simply are no more ancient, more convinced, more puffed-up idols. . . . Nor any hollower ones. . . . That does not prevent them being the most believed in, and by no means, especially in the most distinguished case, do people say ‘idol’” (Nietzsche [1889] 1998: 3). Nietzsche is clearly interested in exposing and literally deflating “pufffed-up” ideas and assumptions. But it is also clear that he means this process to be at once critical and creative. It is not simply a destructive act. This is suggested above all by his curious juxtaposition of hammers and idols. The long history of iconoclasm in the West (by Christians themselves against both “pagan” and, for Protestants, Catholic images) would have made it easy for Nietzsche to simply speak of breaking idols. Instead, he treats them as musical instruments, making them “pipe up” and “sound” like a “tuning fork.” Given Nietzsche’s well-known fascination with music (made clear in his 1872 The birth of tragedy from the spirit of music; see Nietzsche 1990: 1–146), and the fact that the title of this 1889 volume (Götzen-Dämmerung) plays with the title of his ex-idol Wagner’s opera from 1876 (Götterdämmerung), we can think of Twilight of the idols as a critical opera in prose. Idols provide the notes; aphorisms the libretto. Nietzsche’s transformation of idols not into rubble, but into music, informs my own ideas about how to deal in generative (and not simply dismissive) ways with the idol of Christian chronology.

26. See Birth (2008) for another strategy of temporal pluralization.

27. http://kayhan.ir. Turning to the headlines, we have an Andersonian combination of the national (a new subway line in Tehran; nuclear inspections at Parchin; terrorism in Basij) and the international (British PM David Cameron; planned Russian deployments to Syria; a photo of the Kaaba to announce the Muslim holidays of Eid ul-Adha and the Day of ‘Arava). See also Barak’s discussion (2013) of the “new division of labor” between Hijrī and Gregorian calendars in late-nineteenth-century Egypt.

28. http://www.rodong.rep.kp/ko/. In terms of content, the front-page headlines are all devoted to national news: tideland reclamation projects in North Pyongyang province; electronic blackboard research at Kim Il-Sung University; excellent fishing production in the port of Namp’o.

29. http://www.ltn.com.tw. Front page news ranges from upcoming meetings between Chinese president Xi Jinping and US president Obama; a jet and two pilots who went missing over Taiwan’s Central Mountain Range; the resignation of EasyCard chairman Tai Chi-Chuan. Thanks to Colin Gullberg for his comments on the use of the Republican Mínguó calendar on official government documents in Taiwan, but apparently not on most newspapers.

30. Because it takes 1912 as its Year 1, the Mínguó calendar happens to use the same yearcount number as the just-mentioned North Korean Juche calendar.

31. http://www.worldjournal.com. Although dominated by advertising, the front page’s news items include a photo of the arrival of Chinese president Xi Jinping and his wife Peng Liyuan in Seattle; President Xi’s assertion that the anticorruption campaign in China was not a “House of Cards” (referring to the American Netflix drama set in contemporary Washington, DC); and the interception of a US air force plane by a Chinese fighter jet over the Yellow Sea (told from the perspective of the Pentagon, not the Chinese government). Thanks to Yiwen Liu for her help with translation and detailed commentary on Chinese calendrical traditions.

32. Trouillot makes a parallel (if critical) observation on commemorations in Silencing the past: “As arbitrary markers of time, dates link a number of dissimilar events” (1995: 117).

33. The connections between this strategy for writing global history and Fabian’s critiques of ethnographic allochronism—also published in 1983—should be obvious.

34. A 1524 letter by the Archbishop of Toledo described how, in 1521, Valencia’s Muslims “were reduced and brought to our baptism and to our church” (“fueron reducidos y traydos a nuestro baptismo y a nuestra yglesia”; quoted in Boronat y Barrachina 1901: 401).