‘Friend Books’ – the facebook of 400 years ago

Social media may be the poster child of the 21st century. Being regarded as a blessing and a curse, some people are craze about it because of its convenience for communication and connection. However, it can also be a terrifying swamp of embarrassing photos and oversharing. Actually, users of ‘Friend Books’—the Facebook of 16th century didn’t need to worry about such a question.

KBJacobvanBronckhorst-930x664

Let’s date bake to the 16th century, at that time nobility of Northern Europe were far ahead of fashion when it came to social media. In 1560, the young folks of what’s now called the Netherlands and the Rhineland didn’t trade digital “likes” and tweets, but they did have a way to share their thoughts, comment on other people’s opinions, seek advice, and celebrate whatever song they were really jamming on with their friends. They were called alba amicorum, meaning “friend books” in Latin.

79JXX_VOORPLAT

Dutch PhD scholar Sophie Reinders is an expert studying these fascinating pieces of history.

tumblr_n4r1ktLqOA1r4litgo1_1280-930x904

According to Sophie, alba amicorum were used to establish and solidify personal and professional relationships of Northern European youngsters of nobility as early as 1560. They were also used to reveal crushes,offer advice, share opinions, and offer comments on other people’s entries – sound familiar?

Album_amicorum_2122-0012

And like Facebook, it all started at university.

To record the professional networks they built during these tours, boys would carry a book with them in which they’d have scholars, philosophers, scientists, artists and fellow students write up a short entry, generally recalling their pleasant meeting and faith in the young men’s ventures into the professional world.

To get an idea, take a look at the very impressive album of Michael van der Meer (1590-1653):

Album_amicorum_of_Michael_van_Meer_006

Album_amicorum_of_Michael_van_Meer_003

Album_amicorum_of_Michael_van_Meer_014-930x648


Album_amicorum_of_Michael_van_Meer_013-930x636A full book would underline the boys’ social standing and heighten their chances in the professional world – much like a strong LinkedIn network today.

133m63_141v_142r_x-930x573

Boys’ alba amicorum often look very appealing, as famous artists would be requested to paint the men’s family weapons or lavish pictures symbolizing the well wishes they had for the young men and the adventures they embarked upon. (What I wouldn’t give to have my LinkedIn-profile picture custom made by Banksy…)

Unfortunately, girls rarely had access to famous artists. But that doesn’t mean that their versions of the friendship books were not as – if not even more – interesting.

JulianadeRousselKB-930x638

Instead of notes from scientists and artists, the girls’ books were filled with correspondences between friends and admirers, inside jokes, and detailed accounts of social events. If the boys’ books were like LinkedIn, then the girls’ were like Facebook.

voorplat-1-930x561

The album of Margaretha Haghen for example, includes this little (freely translated) gem:

“In Shrovetide, on day two,
We guests wrote this for you
And could not leave for home,
So tipsy we’d become;
Love made us so besotted
We left nothing in the bottle.”

Album_amicorum_van_Juliana_de_Roussel_8077183290

10694292_10205069909853636_8551763910580534031_o-930x669

The more people wrote in your book, the better you could show the rest of the world that you were a social and popular young lady. And by looking at who wrote what in whose album, Sophie now reconstructs social networks, friendships, acquaintances, and social exchanges from over 400 years ago.

Album_amicorum_van_Joost_van_Ockinga_8077183590

JoostvanOckinga

Anyone else now craving an app that converts your Facebook page to an Amicorum style version?