Jane Desborough

PhD Student

Summary: The title of my thesis is 'The Changing Face of Time: the Making of the Modern Clock and Watch Dial 1550-1770'.

The Changing Face of Time: the Making of the Modern Clock and Watch Dial 1550-1770

The modern clock and watch dial is based on an arrangement which became an unofficial standard by c.1770.  Prior to this, clock and watch dials varied in terms of both their format and the content of information represented.  The attempt to reveal the reasons for this diversity and apparent convergence by c.1770 is the central focus of my thesis.  Different methods for displaying a range of information and for indicating specific values within that range raise questions about communication methods utilised by clock-makers, legibility and hierarchies of knowledge.  Calendrical, lunar and astronomical indications make such dials rich in content which poses questions about the place of dials within wider perceptions of time and the planets in the period.  My research will offer a triadic approach to answering these questions by examining the technical, social, and epistemological aspects of dial development.  It will move beyond explanations of dial diversity based purely on aesthetic appeal by considering the influences of the wider historical context on dials in the period and the ways in which people experienced and made use of them.  By comparing a selection of clock and watch dials from museum collections with textual sources such as craft books, almanacs and clock-makers’ pamphlets, I will argue that a combination of conventions established in early printing, the decline in astrological belief and an increase in the variety of devices that made users’ lives easier in the period contributed to the emergence of a uniform clock and watch dial by c.1770.

My supervisors for this research are Professor Graeme Gooday and Dr Raphael Hallett.