Facebook copies social networking concept from 600 years ago

The Facebook concept was anticipated some 600 years ago.

A collaborative research project is ongoing between Royal Holloway, University of London, the British Library and Reading University, in which a team of academics are cataloguing and investigating the works of the Italian Academies, dating from 1525 to 1700.One of the major outcomes of the project is a comprehensive database of information on Academies from across the Italian peninsula, detailing their membership and publications. This is publicly accessible through the British Library on-line catalogue

Learned Academies represent a vital and characteristic dimension of early modern culture. There were ca. 600 Academies in Italy in the period 1525-1700. In the 16th and 17th centuries the Italian Academies were responsible for promoting debate and discussion in many different disciplines from language and literature, through the visual and performing arts to science, technology, medicine and astronomy.

And the researchers have also found that scholars at the Italian Academies were networking socially with satirical nicknames while sharing comments on topical events and exchanging poems and plays and music.

The project provides information about the academies, their members, publications, activities and emblems. Researchers were surprised to realise just how similar the activities of these sixteenth and seventeenth century scholars were with society today. 

Professor Jane Everson, Principal-investigator, said: “Just as we create user names for our profiles on Facebook and Twitter and create circles of friends on Google plus, these scholars created nicknames, shared – and commented on – topical ideas, the news of the day, and exchanged poems, plays and music. It may have taken a little longer for this to be shared without the internet, but through the creation of yearbooks and volumes of letters and speeches, they shared the information of the day.” 

The scholars created satirical names for their academies such as Gelati  and Intronati. Professor Everson explains: “They are jokey names, which really mean the opposite of what they say. Intronati has nothing to do with thrones; it means dazed, stunned, knocked out and so not able to think straight – but really the Intronati were engaged in serious study, debates, dramatic performances and the like from the moment they were founded in the 1520s – and they are still as active as ever in their home city of Siena. The Gelati were not going around singing just one cornetto. Gelati means the frozen ones – so a pun on the fact that these academicians far from being totally inactive through being frozen cold, were busy debating, exploring ideas, challenging received opinions and changing the cultural world of their home city of Bologna, and indeed of Italy and far beyond.”

Just as the names of the academies and the nicknames of the individual members were fun, so are the emblems and mottos which illustrate the name of the academy. The scholars took great delight in creating puzzling emblems with hidden meanings. Professor Everson adds: “They do sometimes take some working out, but it is great fun when you can see the hidden meanings in the images.”  

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One Response to “Facebook copies social networking concept from 600 years ago”

  1. Patrick McFadden Says:

    Nice research!

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