This post is part of a joint series entitled “Digital Research, Digital Age: Blogging New Approaches to Early American Studies,” hosted at the Panorama and the Junto. This joint series stems from stemming from a conference entitled “Revolutionary Texts in a Digital Age: Thomas Paine’s Publishing Networks, Past and Present,” organized by Nora Slonimsky at Iona College in October 2018. This series will feature one post every day this week, hosted by both the Panorama and the Junto, and Dr. Slonimsky’s introductory post is found here. You can read previous posts by Lindsay Chervinsky, Joseph Adelman, and the Johnson/Pellissier/Schmidt trio.
Writing in 1995, media critic Jon Katz christened Thomas Paine “the moral father of the internet,” musing that “nearly two centuries after his death, in a form Paine couldn’t have imagined but would have plunged into with joyous passion, the internet is, in many ways, the embodiment of everything he believed.”[i] Katz is correct in more ways than he intended. That very same year, media theorists Richard Barbrook and Andy Cameron framed the animating spirit of the digital revolution as a collision of the New Left and libertarianism. “The Californian Ideology,” as they called it, offers an “optimistic vision of the future [that] has been enthusiastically embraced by computer nerds, slacker students, innovative capitalists, social activists, trendy academics, futurist bureaucrats and opportunistic politicians across the USA.”[ii] More than two centuries earlier, Thomas Paine presaged this curious ideological blending, articulating the tensions between libertarianism and the left with the same soaring revolutionary rhetoric that suffuses the digital humanities.