As the French like to say, plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose. The more things change, the more they stay the same. Before there was Twitter, Facebook and Google+ (click to follow us), Europeans living in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries had to deal with their own version of information overload. Emerging postal systems, the proliferation of short letters called billets, and the birth of newspapers and pamphlets all pumped unprecedented amounts of information — valuable information, gossip, chatter and the rest — through newly-emerging social networks, which eventually played a critical role in the French Revolution, much like Twitter and Facebook proved instrumental in organizing the Arab Spring.
These historical social networks are being carefully mapped out by scholars at Stanford. Above, we have Anaïs Saint-Jude painting the historical picture for us. Below Dan Edelstein gives you a closer look at Stanford’s Mapping the Republic of Letters project.