Saturday, August 06, 2005

Reading and writing communities

As individual readers freely made choices about what information to
acquire, they also freely came together as groups of like-minded readers. In the
more heavily urban Northern states, Americans began to join voluntary
associations at remarkable rates—library clubs, lyceums for hearing speeches and
discussing ideas, political parties, and religious and reform organizations.
Each of these associations was also a reading community, which connected members
by official publications and common reading habits. Within these groups, readers
also found new opportunities to become writers, as many amateur writers now
produced articles for reform papers or poems for religious magazines. Whereas
private reading choices in the colonial period had governed vertical
relationships between elites (who possessed information) and non-elites (who did
not), reading choices in the early nineteenth century became public matters,
defining horizontal relationships among individuals who met on a more equal
footing. Tocqueville also noted this aspect of the print revolution when he
observed in the United States "a necessary relation between [voluntary]
associations and newspapers: newspapers make associations, and associations make

W. Caleb McDaniel puts blogging into historical context and discusses the history of reading in these United States.

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