This anony­mous list of advice for young men was a mid-​​nineteenth-​​century viral sen­sa­tion, appearing in at least 28 news­pa­pers, Northern and Southern, with date­lines between 1851 and 1860. The list even made it all the way to Hawaii, and was pub­lished twice in Honolulu’s The Poly­ne­sian.

A group of inves­ti­ga­tors at North­eastern Uni­ver­sity iden­ti­fied the list while working on a project called Infec­tious Texts, which uses data from the Library of Con­gress’Chron­i­cling America col­lec­tion to track the path of “viral” sto­ries, poems, and lists across nineteenth-​​century Amer­ican news­pa­pers. The project will go live later this month. (In the mean­time, here are a few early maps that show the way some sto­ries were shared.)

Copy­right law much laxer than today’s meant that nineteenth-​​century news­pa­pers could reprint con­tent whole­sale. Often, the Infec­tious Texts project’s director Ryan Cordell points out, the kinds of sto­ries that got trac­tion in the nineteenth-​​century weren’t items that we typ­i­cally asso­ciate with news­pa­pers today. Papers printed fic­tion, poetry, speeches, and anec­dotes, along with reported pieces. Edi­tors looking for short, uni­ver­sally res­o­nant bits of con­tent grav­i­tated toward home­spun pieces like this list of “maxims.”

Read the article at Slate →