Wednesday, April 12, 2017

From Commonplace Books to Facebook

This is a longer, edited version of a review I posted yesterday on Facebook. 

Today's talk by Juliet Shields 'From commonplace books to Facebook' was a fascinating insight into how online social media is in some ways a direct descendant from the commonplace books that people used to create to bring together quotes, recipes and other items from different sources and that were often re-read  and also shared between people so they could all add to the same book and share each other's knowledge and ideas. Commonplace books were most popular in the 17th and 18th centuries though some people still make them today.

The commonplace book was separate from two much more private books, which may seem similar - the diary (which would focus on listing and detailing events in one's own life) and the journal (which would offer a chance to write down one's own private thoughts and musings.)

One of the things that most interested me was how many writers used commonplace books as a source of inspiration, which in social media terms, for me at least, is a role most closely served by Pinterest (the visually based social media network, which is well worth checking out if you don't yet know it - you can find the Pinterest references to commonplace books here). 

We are usually aware that online social media offers us a way to present ourselves and create a public persona, but what I hadn't thought about before was how this is a natural evolution from one of the functions of commonplace books. Seen like this, online social media becomes a new way of doing something we've always done, rather than being a technological innovation that is often seen as time wasting and pernicious. Also social media in a sense returns us to a democratic sharing of information that was, apparently the norm, before mass media became the dominant media that we are used to it being. 

Juliet Shields is the Associate Professor of English at the University of Washington in Seattle and is currently the Fulbright Scholar at the National Library of Scotland.  The talk was given at the National Library of Scotland (which is one of the best places in Edinburgh for interesting free talks on a variety of topics related to literature) and drew on the library's collection of commonplace books and diaries. 

I have a book that I occasionally use to write quotes in, but I think I'll start doing this in a more organised way, possibly combining it with elements of scrapbooking. What about you? Do you keep a commonplace book?