Blogging in the Early Republic

Why bloggers belong in the history of reading

| July 21, 2005


Media reports on the blog explosion over the past few years tend to link bloggers with venerable figures from bygone eras. Journalists point to the likes of Martin Luther, Thomas Paine, and George Orwell as prototypical bloggers, but W. Caleb McDaniel suggests we look in the less-turned pages of history. That's because the majority of blogging isn't done by high-profile thinkers on political websites like TomPaine.com, but rather within localized communities of interest.

Online journal writers' true ancestors, McDaniel argues, are people like Henry Clarke Wright and Edward Neufville Tailer Jr., avid American antebellum readers and writers who kept records of their lives and their reading. They clipped and commented on the news in diaries much like contemporary bloggers' websites.

McDaniel compares the recent explosion in blogging to the eruption of democratic print media during the 19th century. By 1850, the diversification of printed material had encouraged readers to pore over a variety of specialized works. Wright and Tailer are exemplars of an era in which readers responded to the 'bewildering abundance' of texts with writings and discussions that oriented them within specialized circles like library clubs and lyceums.

This media filtering process, whether in today's 'blogosphere' or antebellum America's diaries, stems from the needs of individuals navigating a media environment containing a wealth of information. Or, as it was for Wright, to 'see more of what is going on around me.'
-- Rose Miller



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