Blogs return to basics
Monday, January 17th, 2011
Robert Darnton, dean of French historians, has written a lot about the role of coffee houses in 18th century France and Britain in inspiring free thinking and a self-conscious social class of citizens. So its fun to make an explicit connection between those proto-newspapers and today’s blogs.
To appreciate the importance of a pre-modern blog, consult a database such as Eighteenth Century Collections Online and download a newspaper from eighteenth-century London. It will have no headlines, no bylines, no clear distinction between news and ads, and no spatial articulation in the dense columns of type, aside from one crucial ingredient: the paragraph. Paragraphs were self-sufficient units of news. They had no connection with one another, because writers and readers had no concept of a news “story” as a narrative that would run for more than a few dozen words. News came in bite-sized bits, often “advices” of a sober nature—the arrival of a ship, the birth of an heir to a noble title—until the 1770s, when they became juicy. Pre-modern scandal sheets appeared, exploiting the recent discovery about the magnetic pull of news toward names.
I wonder what Darnton makes of Twitter?
If you’re interested in this stuff, you should definitely read Darnton’s 1999 essay “An Early Information Society.”