Saturday, July 02, 2005
The Common Blog

Just the other day I read about how early US immigrants often kept journals during their oversees voyages. This reminded me the western pioneers, who also faithfully scribbled throughout their westward trek in personal diaries. The individuals who made these treks knew they were doing something historic, not to mention something that would drastically change their lives. Today these journals give a lot of insight into the lives of common folks during historic times.

Then just yesterday I ran into this article, "Blogging in the Early Republic: Why Blogging Belongs in the History of Reading". It's from Common-Place, a really good online journal about American history. The web site promises writing about history that is actually readable, a notable goal.

The article places blogging into the long history of American public discourse. Some have compared bloggers to the famous and notorious pamphleteers of the Revolution and Civil War like Thomas Paine. This author, however, fits blogging into the long history of journal-keeping in this country. In the early republic, newspapers proliferated and the problem became how to keep up with it all.

Surrounded by ephemeral print, many began to make references in their journals to what they had been reading—the rough equivalent of what bloggers do by linking to a Web page. During the Revolution, for instance, Christopher Marshall, a Philadelphian radical and friend of Thomas Paine, peppered his journal with references to the papers, often with brief comments on the news.

Other readers kept detailed scrapbooks, filled with newspaper articles with scribbled notes in the margins. In this regard, journal writing became a way of keeping up with all the reading that increased exponentially in the new republic. Blogs fit in to a similar situation today. With so much available on the internet to read, it's impossible to keep up with it all.

Indeed, blogging demonstrates the persistence of a key truth in the history of reading, an insight as obvious to Tocqueville as it should be to most bloggers today. The insight is that readers, in a culture of abundant reading material, regularly seek out other readers, either by becoming writers themselves or by sharing their records of reading with others. .... Perhaps, instead, blogging is the literate person’s new outlet for an old need. In Wright’s words, it is the need "to see more of what is going on around me." And in print cultures where there is more to see, it takes reading, writing, and association in order to see more.

This article was posted yesterday, and I'm just now getting around to blogging about it. Perhaps other bloggers have already argued about the article, disagreed with it, found errors hidden in the subtext, and generally rehashed this article all over the blogosphere. And now I get to join in the fray. I like considering my small contribution to the blog world as something similar to those early immigrants who scribbled away in their simple diaries as they stepped into a new life. The New World begins today.

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