In our English Literature course at the department, I was going to talk about the history, social context and reading public of 18th Century England. How Hanoverian ruled the country in 18th Century; how the number of female readers increased; how the industrial revolution affected the different classes, etc. As I don’t like following the course book as the only material, I usually add videos, audio files and this kind of supplementary materials from different sources. Before preparing a presentation, I read the course book at first; and then I started to search for details about the issues of the week. While searching, I noticed another important concept of the period, coffeehouses. In our course book, it was told just in a few sentences:

A rising middle class hungry for knowledge and for literary representations of a changing social reality, which was very much of their own making, sought new forms of entertainment and intellectual stimulation. Apart from the new novels, these were provided by the coffeehouses which quickly became centres of active debate, business transactions and social life, and also by the proliferation of newspapers and magazines dealing with all aspects of society, from dueling to the latest fashions. (Brodey & Malgaretti, 2002; p. 101)

I searched for e-books and materials on coffeehouses and found Brian Cowan’s The Social Life of Coffee: The Emergence of the British Coffeehouse. I read some parts and I really enjoyed reading the book. Finally, I found a definition for the British Coffeehouse of that period:

a place where people gathered together to drink coffee, learn about the news of the day, and perhaps to meet with other local residents and discuss matters of mutual concern. (p. 79)

People went to coffeehouses to learn about the news of the day and discuss on the topics they all concern. They all sat around a table and shared what they know. The main purpose of these meetings can be considered as sharing and improving each other on specific topics. The topics of these meetings might be politics, literature, entertainment or inventions all around the world. I can imagine the atmosphere of the British Coffeehouses in those times. People read a journal, an article or a book and shared it with their friends and colleagues. In most of the coffeehouses, the members of were invited and most of them were not open to everyone. Even in those times, they understood the importance of sharing – improving by sharing.

These British Coffeehouses reminded me of the communities of practice, especially Webheads, and I wanted to share this as a blog post.

Webheads is a world-wide, cross-cultural, and vibrant online-community of educators with an open enrollment for anyone who wants to join. Webheads in Action was created in 1997-8 by Vance Stevens, in Abu Dhabi, Maggi Doty in Germany, and Michael Coghlan, in Australia, for ESL learners and facilitators as a student-teacher community. It has expanded to encompass a myriad of educators involved in e-learning in TESOL EVOnline (Electronic Village) and other language or cultural-based curricula. Webheads meet online regularly to explore the latest synchronous and non-synchronous communications technologies, including video and voice, to adapt and demonstrate new innovative ideas for e- learning and classroom curriculum. These educators also display a deep warmth and dedication to helping others. They are evolutionary and enterprising scholars who are harmonious and know how to have a lot of fun. (http://webheadsinaction.org/about)

Wenger defined communities of practice as follows:

Communities of practice are groups of people who share a concern or a passion for something they do and learn how to do it better as they interact regularly. (http://tinyurl.com/bnsgtzq)

In order to become a community of practice, the members of that community should have a common “concern or a passion”; they should meet and interact regularly; learning how to do something better should be their purpose; and the members could improve themselves while improving their friends and colleagues. Thus, we can easily claim that the characteristics of communities of practice were similar to coffeehouses. People become a member of these communities of practice by sharing, interacting and helping each other.

To sum up, it can be stated that there are many similarities between Webheads group and British Coffeehouses. Actually, I can also claim that coffeehouses were the original form of online communities of practice. Vance Stevens, Michael Coghlan and Margaret Doty founded this coffeehouse in 1997-8 and the members of this great group have been interacting with each other since then. I have always been proud of being a member of Webheads (since 2004); now I am also proud of being a member of this Coffeehouse, called Webheads.

If you want to get more information about British Coffeehouses of 18th Century, you can watch the following video:

References:

Brodey, K; Malgaretti, F (2002). Focus on English and American Literature. Modern Languages; Milan.

Wenger, E. (n.d.). Communities of Practice: A brief introduction. Retrieved from http://wenger-trayner.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/01/06-Brief-introduction-to-communities-of-practice.pdf.

Cowan, B. (2005). The Social Life of Coffee: The Emergence of British Coffeehouse.  London: Yale University Press.

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