By JARREAU FREEMAN
Before blogs, Instagram, email, Facebook and Twitter, people voiced their opinions through pamphlets, made lunch plans through letters, sent messages via telegram and exchanged carte de visites instead of tagging friends in photos.
The Rosenbach Museum and Library in Philadelphia is exploring how people in the 17th through early 20th centuries communicated and networked in a pre-social media age in the exhibition Networking Before the Net, which is on display now through June 16.
“(This exhibit) is an interesting way to remind ourselves that the things we think we developed are part of a continuum — there is a link between present and past,” said Rosenbach Associate Curator Kathy Haas, the organizer of the exhibit. “It’s just fun. We don’t tend to think about how things we do now are like what might have happened before. So, it’s a fun way to look at these sorts of things.”
Where did the idea for “Networking Before the Net” come from?
The idea for the exhibition was inspired by the museum’s collection of Daniel Defoe material, which includes an assortment of his pamphlets.
In the 18th century, pamphlet writing was used as a medium to express one’s opinion about an array of topics including politics and religion. People would respond to pamphlets, they agreed or disagreed with, with one of their own. This was described by Haas as “pamphlet wars.”
“We realized that no one would come to an exhibit about 18th century pamphlet wars,” she said. “But as we were thinking about it, we realized the back and forth in the pamphlet exchanges were similar to what people post on political blogs these days. We thought this is the 18th century equivalent of the blog. That was our jumping off point.”
What types of materials are on display?
The exhibit is divided into six categories: Blogging and Commenting, Saving and Sharing, Image Sharing, News and Broadside, Instant Messages and Social Networking. Each topic will showcase how these things were carried our prior to the social technologies we have today.
When guests visit the Image Sharing display they will learn about how image sharing was made possibly during earlier periods due to print, silhouettes and carte de visite, which was a small, easily swappable form of paper photography, Haas said. People would collect and share photographs of friends, family members and celebrities, she said.
Or when guests take time to study the News and Broadside exhibit they will learn about how newspapers, even back then, were very social, Haas said. People would read and discuss newspapers in coffee houses or taverns. Papers would also include sections for hotel arrivals so people could know who was visiting the area.
“It was the status update prior to the status update,” she said.
In addition, examples of Broadsides will be on display. Broadsides were the equivalent of posters and would hang in public places so people could read and discuss them, she said.
If people pay a visit the Blogging and Commenting display they will see the Defoe pamphlets along with a pamphlet war between political activist Thomas Pain and Loyalist officer James Chamlers about American independence, in addition to much more.
When can I visit the exhibit?
The exhibit can be viewed during museum hours: Wednesday and Thursday from noon to 8 p.m.; Tuesday and Friday from noon to 5 p.m.; and Saturday and Sunday from noon to 6 p.m. It runs through June 16.
What’s the price of admission?
The price of admission into the museum is $10 for adults; $8 for seniors 65 years and older and $5 for students and children. Children 5 years old and younger receive free admission.
Where’s the museum located?
The museum is located at 2008 Delancey Place, Philadelphia, PA 19103.
What if I need more information?
For more information about the exhibit call the Rosenbach Museum and Library at (215) 732-1600 or visit www.rosenbach.org.