Scientists that rely on excavation for studying the past tend to conceptualize the passage of time vertically, as a movement from bottom to top. In the history of knowledge, this has not been an exclusive property of sciences that excavate the past. Geological time had an impact on many other disciplines, some of which are far from the original source, with the result that various temporal processes became stratified, such as the evolution and growth of life, the mind, language, sociality and knowledge. By looking at the visual language of different disciplines, including evolutionary biology, linguistics, psychology, anthropology and history, I trace some key ramifications of the stratigraphic understanding of time. In doing so, I reveal important tensions that emerge as the stratigraphic view of time mixes with other temporal trajectories, such as the horizontality of the text, the verticality of hydraulic and arboricultural metaphors in genealogical thinking, as well as the sagittal temporality of the mind common in the west. The analysis provides insights into the corporeal and historical nature of disciplinary knowledge, across the sciences and the humanities, by suggesting that the way concepts of time evolve and circulate in academia is never independent of how scholars appropriate their environments corporeally.
- history of ideas