Stephen Greenblatt, The Swerve. 2011

« But what he (Ammianus Marcellinus) observed, as the empire slowly crumbled, was a loss of cultural moorings, a descent into febrile triviality. ‘In place of the philosopher the singer is called in, and in place of the orator the teacher of stagecraft, and while the libraries are shut up forever like tombs, water-organs are manufactured and lyres as large as carriages.’  »

Stephen Greenblatt, The Swerve. How the world became modern. 2011.

How commonplace books were like Tumblr and Pinterest

Le « commonplace book », le facebook du 16e et 17e siècles. Sans ordinateur, mais avec autant d’ego.


Shared journals were an early form of social media, and the mass-media era may have been a historical aberration. These were two of the claims made by Lee Humphreys, a communications and media researcher at Cornell University, who gave a talk this week at Microsoft Research’s Social Media Collective. I agree with her on both counts, of course, though I would trace the sharing of journals back further, to the commonplace books of the 16th and 17th centuries.

Humphreys has examined in detail how people in the 19th century would share their diaries with visiting families and friends by reading aloud, in order to tell them what had been going on in their lives. She has also analysed the diary entries of Charlie Mac, a soldier in the American Civil War, which he copied out and sent home as letters to his family (and anyone else they wanted…

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