Facebook Before Facebook: Tagging in Antiquity

Earlier this week for our module ‘Text, Culture and Interpretation’, we were looking at the oral/aural and performative aspect of biblical texts. During this session I was explaining some of Jesper Svenbro’s work on the anthropology of reading in Antiquity, particularly in relation to funerary inscriptions. Sarah Bond’s Guest blog (below) is therefore quite timely in provoking more questions about how inscriptions work in Antiquity and, as one of my friends said is also “so cool”!


This is a guest blog by Sarah E. Bond, ancient historian in the Classics Department at the University of Iowa. The post highlights the link between media in the past and in our own digital world, a theme that is frequently addressed here. Sarah maintains a blog devoted to classical culture. EK

In the digital world, tags are ubiquitous. When we digitally tag items, we are essentially applying metadata (information about your information) to an object. We practice this all the time: when we write a blog post and want to increase viewership, when we upload an image onto Flickr, or when we identify individuals or places in Facebook posts. At Facebook’s Desktop Help center, they attempt to explain the reasons for tagging: “When you tag someone, you create a link to their profile…Your status update may also show up on that friend’s Timeline.” In antiquity, tags functioned in a similar manner to today. Though…

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