"A good newspaper, I suppose," Arthur Miller once mused, "is a nation talking to itself." But let's not be paperist about it: you could say the same thing about most media. Journalism and literature and TV shows and movies and Buzzfeed lists are, at their core, conversational. They are, at their core, fodder. They exist, whether new medium or old, hot medium or cool, highbrow medium or low-, for the same general purpose: to give us stuff to talk about.
Let's take just one tiny example from a small town: Millersburg, Kentucky. Which, for a time (that time being the late 19th century), published a paper of local interest called the Semi-weekly Bourbon News (Bourbon being Millersburg's county and the original source of the Kentucky whiskey that bears its name). And the Semi-weekly Bourbon News printed -- along with local news and advertisements and the classic hodgepodge of local interest -- a column it called "Scintillations." Which was a series of delightfully varied bullet-point-style notes about local life and society.
Inspired by this image, which the American Prospect's Jaime Fuller dug up, and helped by the Library of Congress's "Chronicling America" project, I came across a series of Scintillations published during the late months of 1883. And the column, fortunately for us all, delivers what its name promises. There are notices about citizens' health and visitors' presences in town. There are trend updates -- about fashion and language and medical treatments. There are jokes. There are, in all, little factoids about far-away lives that are weird and wonderful and revealing. These include: