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Friday, January 03, 2014

Networking Before the Net

Someone writes and circulates an opinionated piece on a hot political topic. A second person reads it and responds. A third and fourth person chime in. The original person responds to the commenters. The cycle repeats. Sound like the modern blogosphere? Or maybe, the pamphlet wars of the 17th and 18th century.

If you've been on the Rosenbach house tour, you've seen the Daniel Defoe collection in the third floor hall (they're the uniformly bound volumes in this photo) .

Defoe was a prolific pamphleteer and the similarities between the cheaply printed, strongly worded, and often anonymous pamphlets of his day and the modern back-and-forth on the Internet was one of the inspirations for our upcoming exhibit Networking Before the Net: Sharing Information in the Pre-Digital Age.

Networking Before the Net considers a number of activities that we now often perform online--saving and sharing favorite tidbits, sending short text communications, accessing news, sharing photos, maintaining and expanding our social networks of friends and acquaintances, debating hot topics--and looks at some of the ways these were carried out in the pre-digital age. Before news was posted to our Facebook walls, it was posted to physical walls in the form of broadsides and handbills.  The development of the cheap, easily reproducible, and easy-to-mail photographic carte-de-visite in the1850s led to a "cartomania" craze of image sharing and swapping.

Cash & Godshaw, carte de visite of Adolph Rosengarten. Louisville, Kentucky, 1862. Rush V:42:03

Obviously these are not exact parallels to the modern age and there are many differences as well as similarities, but we hope the Networking exhibit will offer a fun way to look at some of the traditional items in the Rosenbach collection from a new perspective. The exhibition will also include several items from the Free Library's collection, including bringing together their copy of Thomas Paine's seminal pamphlet Common Sense with the Rosenbach's copy of James Chalmer's rebuttal, Plain Truth. In keeping with an exhibit about information sharing, there will also be several opportunities for visitors to contribute their thoughts, in both digital and analog form. We will be using the hashtag #networkingexhibit for all exhibit-related material on our social media channels, so keep an eye out.

Networking Before the Net will open January 29 and run through June 16. While you're waiting (with bated breath, we hope), you might enjoy checking out your knowledge of modern social media through this quiz from ABC.

Kathy Haas is the Associate Curator at the Rosenbach Museum & Library.

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