Robert Darnton at the New York Review of Books blog on blogging: “[blogs] conform to a formula derived from old-fashioned tabloid journalism: names make news.” Darnton compares some blogs to his area of expertise, underground writing of ancient regime France, and then gives succeeding examples of 18th C libels and such.
Darnton concludes (a bit ominously, to my ear) “I don’t believe that history teaches lessons, at least not in a direct, easily applied manner, but it does raise questions. Are blogs disrupting traditional politics today just as “libelles” did in eighteenth-century France?”
(Why ominously? Darnton and other historians of the French Revolution argue that libelous underground literature helped to undermine the authority of individuals, of offices, and of the entire system which they represented. He’s more nuanced than what I write here, but his work suggests that this underground literature ultimately made it easier to destroy the system and behead Louis XVI.)
Robert Darnton is Professor of history at Princeton and past winner of the APHA Award.
By Paul Romaine
Paul Romaine is a grant writer and independent curator in New York City.