Early Modern Memes

Expensive and laborious to produce, a single woodcut could be recycled to illustrate scores of different ballads, each new home imbuing the same image with often wildly diverse meanings.

Just like early modern woodcut images, distracted boyfriend and countless other stock photo meme characters have created an anthology of cultural knowledge. Their cultural currency feeds an expanding and self-replicating web of meaning. The rich early modern woodcut images thankfully still left to posterity offer numerous threads to follow, webs to weave, and connections to draw. In doing so, we can begin to understand early modern consumption of popular literature and recognize the ways in which we reflect some of the very same habits today.

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