An Index to the Heart: Ellen Gruber Garvey’s “Scissoring and Scrapbooking: Nineteenth-Century Reading, Remaking, and Recirculating”

The impulse to “Pin” and “Share” and collect stories and information from a wealth of knowledge has been around much longer than the social media we use today. In “Scissorizing and Scrapbooks: Nineteenth-Century Reading, Remaking, and Recirculating,” Ellen Gruber Garvey discusses how popular practices in the past reveal ways people understood and interacted with media. With books too expensive and rare for the common man and with an overabundance of newspapers and magazines, scrapbooking became a popular activity that allowed people to cut up the ephemeral publications and save the interesting, important, and personal bits in a more permanent form.

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Image from Gitelman and Pingree, New Media: 1740-1915.

As the newspaper industry grew, publications sought to include stories that would interest every member of the family. They also sold more and more advertisements, resulting in a chaos of information. Scrapbooking allowed individuals a process of reorganizing and reusing the clippings they found valuable enough to keep. Some would keep scrapbooks focused on particular categories, such as farming, housekeeping, or travel. Some would alphabetize their stories or use other methods of organization so that they could reference the information later. These Nineteenth-century scrapbooks tell us not only about a hobby families often enjoyed together, but also about the kinds of articles that interested people and what they found important. For some, scrapbooks were private and for others, they were made to be shared and even circulated amongst friends.

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Image from Gitelman and Pingree, New Media: 1740-1915.

Garvey also describes another common way that information was circulated and appropriated by nineteenth century editors. Exchanging allowed local publications to share their news and popular columns. “Scissorizing” or taking clippings from other papers to use in your own, became a part of running a publications and spreading information from coast to coast, or even internationally. Exchanging became a method for journalists to gain popularity and for editors to improve their reputations. Reprinting was not considered theft, but a sign of success. It was the nineteenth century version of “going viral.”

Throughout the article, Garvey comes back again and again to the concept of authorship. By taking clippings from their original publications, reorganizing, and recirculating them, people feel that they have been a part of creating without writing a word. Creating a neat and attractive scrapbook or a superior collection of poems was seen as its own kind of authorship.

Just as nineteenth-century scrapbookers and editors found ways to make the overwhelming new medium of newspapers more usable, we use many tools to organize and circulate the vast amounts of information available on the internet. Garvey mentions the web management devices that help us create bookmarks and save favorite websites. Pinterest allows us to save and categorize images that link to all kinds of webpages and other social media sites make it easy to collect and share information with our online communities. Then and now, we all look for ways to interact with and appropriate new media.

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Image from Gitelman and Pingree, New Media: 1740-1915.

Interested in scrapbooking? Check out another blog post I wrote about the history of scrapbooking, archives, and my own scrapbooks on the Women and Leadership Archives blog.


This article by Ellen Gruber Garvey is chapter 9 in New Media: 1740-1915, by Lisa Gitelman and Geoffrey B. Pingree (Cambridge and London: MIT Press, 2004).