Mapping the Old onto the New

So, I’m reading a chapter from cultural Marxist historian E.P. Thompson’s book The Making of the English Working Class, and I was kind of startled by my reading of a quote from an itinerant Irish writer named W. Cooke Taylor. In Cooke’s Notes of a Tour in the Manufacturing Districts of Lancashire (1842), he’s writing about his observations of the ‘novelties’ that came about during the Industrial Revolution. But when reading this quote, all I could think about were the novelties of New Media and how they have shaped our own cultural production and practices. I don’t know, just a thought:

“As a stranger passes through the masses of human beings which have accumulated round the mills and print works. . . he cannot contemplate these ‘crowded hives’ without feelings of anxiety and apprehension almost amounting to dismay. The population, like the system to which it belongs, is NEW; but it is hourly increasing in breadth and strength. It is an aggregate of masses, our conceptions of which clothe themselves in terms that express something portentous and fearful . . . as of the slow rising and gradual swelling of an ocean which must, at some future and no distant time, bear all the elements of society aloft upon its bosom, and float them Heaven knows whither. There are mighty energies slumbering in these masses. . . . The manufacturing population is not new in its formation alone: it is new in its habits of thought and action, which have been formed by the circumstances of its condition, with little instruction, and less guidance, from external sources. . . .” – W. Cooke Taylor


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