Adorning books with social capital enhancing autographs may have been a modernistic precursor to trends much more palpably active in social media.

The temptation to seek historical counterparts for modern day phenomena is irresistible, perhaps because it caters to our desire for universality as far as human interactions are concerned.

It’s perhaps forgivable that the billing for a display of 16th & 17th Century Dutch “friend books”  has invited comparisons to Facebook. Others have pointed to yearbooks as a more realistic homologue. However the yearbook comparison doesn’t really do the books justice.

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.”

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