16th-Century Friend Books as Social Networking, or, At Least, Status-Gathering

The Van Harinxma thoe Slooten family’s “friend books” (really, autograph books) have been on display at the Koninklijke Bibliotheek, in the Hague, and much is being made of the 16th and 17th century custom of alba amicorum in terms of our current devotion to Facebook. The April issue of World of Interiors writes: “The fashion for these albums began after the Reformation in German universities, where they were called Stammbücher… [Note: the Reformation, history buffs will note, did not happen in German universities. Sorry! Pedantic!] Students would ask classmates and teachers to sign their personal copy of the Bible as a souvenir of their academic career; from the 1550s, books of blank pages were specially produced for the purpose. An album was a record of one’s friends and acquaintances, to be displayed and admired, and a method of exchanging messages and images.” Also, back then it was really hard to get rid of people who constantly left messages on your “friend book” wall. There are marked differences with how we do this now: for one, historically this was often less a diary than a big pile of social credentials. Anyway, the pictures are very pretty!

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