Facebook concept used by sixteenth century scholars, researchers discover

Jun 27, 2012

(Phys.org) -- Our obsession with social networking is not exclusive to the twenty-first century, according to a team of UK researchers.

The idea of creating networks of members and sharing information dates back to the sixteenth century Italian Academies, which saw young scholars create for themselves and develop emblems and mottoes to form groups with which they exchanged information.

The discovery was made during a collaborative research project between Royal Holloway, University of London, the and Reading University, in which a team of are cataloging and investigating the works of the Italian Academies, dating from 1525 to 1700. The project provides information about the academies, their members, publications, activities and emblems.

Researchers were surprised to realize 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.”  

Explore further: Why plants in the office make us more productive

More information: To find out more, visit the Italian Academies website or enter the world of the Italian Academies via the British Library catalogue.

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