Facebook concept used by sixteenth century scholars, researchers discover

June 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: Understanding the social butterfly effect

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

Related Stories

Understanding the social butterfly effect

December 2, 2010

(PhysOrg.com) -- A team of scientists from the University of Southampton, in collaboration with Royal Holloway, University of London and the Institute of Zoology at London Zoo, have been researching the social butterfly effect ...

Unique dictionary nears completion

May 12, 2011

A huge number of students ranging from linguists to those studying coins and family ancestry are benefiting from a 100 year project to compile the world’s most comprehensive dictionary of Medieval Latin.

Google+ opens up to teenagers

January 26, 2012

Google on Thursday opened up Google+ to teenagers, just days after loosening the rules about using real names on the social network.

Recommended for you

From a very old skeleton, new insights on ancient migrations

October 9, 2015

Three years ago, a group of researchers found a cave in Ethiopia with a secret: it held the 4,500-year-old remains of a man, with his head resting on a rock pillow, his hands folded under his face, and stone flake tools surrounding ...

Mexican site yields new details of sacrifice of Spaniards

October 9, 2015

It was one of the worst defeats in one of history's most dramatic conquests: Only a year after Hernan Cortes landed in Mexico, hundreds of people in a Spanish-led convey were captured, sacrificed and apparently eaten.

Ancient genome from Africa sequenced for the first time

October 8, 2015

The first ancient human genome from Africa to be sequenced has revealed that a wave of migration back into Africa from Western Eurasia around 3,000 years ago was up to twice as significant as previously thought, and affected ...

Who you gonna trust? How power affects our faith in others

October 6, 2015

One of the ongoing themes of the current presidential campaign is that Americans are becoming increasingly distrustful of those who walk the corridors of power – Exhibit A being the Republican presidential primary, in which ...


Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.