Sunday, November 07, 2010

Drinking as Enlightenment?

  • People often credit their ideas to individual “Eureka!” moments. But Steven Johnson shows how history tells a different story. His tour takes us from the “liquid networks” of London’s coffee houses to Charles Darwin’s long, slow hunch to today’s high-velocity web. ("Where good ideas come from: Steven Johnson"; TEDGlobal, July 2010, Oxford, 17:46)
This podcast (blog talk?) begins in early modern England, as all digital humanities should I suppose.  Dr. Johnson (not that one) makes a couple of suspect claims.  First, the Oxford coffeehouse probably dates from 1654 not 1651 (as most claim); and the first coffeehouse in the British Isles was probably in London about the same time [Brian Cowan, "Publicity and Privacy in the History of the British Coffeehouse," History Compass 5, 4 (June 2007): 1180–213]. Second, coffeehouses (like taverns) often had private rooms and/or high-backed boxes as well as a public table(s) [John Barrell, “Coffee-House Politicians,” JBS 43, 2 (2004): 206-32].  So we cannot state that coffeehouses always privileged openness ("connecting) over proprietariness ("property").  The talk does point to the importance of examining spaces, sociability, and networks, however.  Then and now.

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