From Civil War Letters to Instagram: Social Media Trends Are Nothing New

It might seem new, and maybe narcissistic, that people feel the need to share their lives with the world – tweeting about what they had for breakfast and sharing videos on Instagram of their kid getting a haircut.

Think again.

In a new book, Lee Humphreys, associate professor of communication at Cornell University, argues that the act of documenting and sharing one’s everyday life is not new – nor is it particularly narcissistic. “The Qualified Self: Social Media and the Accounting of Everyday Life” puts our mobile and social media use in a historical context, and shows how pocket diaries, photo albums and baby books are the predigital precursors of today’s digital and mobile platforms for posting text and images.

“Like social media accounts, these are shared and circulated and commented on. They are not just about the self but they are about other people and their lives,” said Humphreys, who studies the social uses and perceived effects of communication technology. “What people are doing with social media – how they’re using it to communicate, to understand themselves – is quite an old practice.”

The book stemmed from Humphreys’ empirical study comparing a Civil War diarist to a U.S. military blogger in Afghanistan. During the Civil War, the letters and diaries soldiers sent to their families provided an important source of news for the larger community back home. They would routinely be circulated around town and printed in the local newspaper. “There was this sense that they were writing for a potentially broader audience than just the addressees of the letter,” Humphreys said. “And of course the blogger did a similar kind of thing.”

She also analyzed the content of tweets and so-called “accounting diaries” from the early 19th century – and found similarities there, too. Both have entries that consist of a few words or sentences that catalogue daily activities and events – such as a morning trip to Starbucks or who stopped by the house that day – and these accounting diaries would commonly be shared with friends and family.

“We see people sharing everyday, mundane moments as a way of reinforcing social ties,” Humphreys said. “That was certainly the case historically and it’s one of the main reasons why people share things like that on social media today.”

However, one thing dramatically sets apart how we account our daily lives now: the fact that social media companies commodify people’s activity. “They have a financial incentive to get you to post and share, because the more you do, the more they can learn about you and the better they can sell to you,” she said. “And there’s more content for other people to look at, as well.”

In contrast, Kodak, for example, printed the photos that a family would put in its scrapbook; the company had access to the photos but didn’t commodify them. “This is a very different role for corporate entities,” Humphreys said, “to have not only access to our media accounts but also the ability to use that information and couple it with other forms of data to sell us things.”

What Is a Genogram and Why Do I Need to Learn How to Create One?


A genogram is a picture of a person’s family relationships and history. It goes beyond a traditional family tree allowing the creators to visualize patterns and psychological factors that affect relationships.

Genograms were first developed in clinical psychology and family therapy settings by Monica McGoldrick and Randy Gerson and popularized through the publication of a book titled Genograms: Assessment and Intervention in 1985. This new system visualized the client in the context of other relatives including parents, grandparents, spouses, siblings, children, nephews, and nieces.

Genograms are now used by various groups of people in a variety of fields such as medicine, psychology, social work, genetic research, education, and youth work to name but a few.

Most social work practitioners in personal and family therapy use genograms alongside sociograms for personal records and/or to explain family dynamics to their clients.

Why would I use a genogram?

A genogram is a really useful tool for helping us to understand the key people and relationships in a client’s life. It can also help us to see patterns within those relationships and generational patterns which are affecting our clients. Because of the pictorial nature of genograms, it easily shows issues and concerns that might not be spoken about usually in a non-threatening manner.

Genograms also help our clients to put a framework together that explains their circumstances. Many young people who are being abused struggle to speak about it, however showing them how to draw a genogram can lead them to draw the abusive relationship which opens the dialogue. It can also help them see their own struggles using a strengths-based way of working through the issues.

Most of all genograms can change. They are a picture of what is happening now. When I work with families, it is often when they are on the brink of an all-out war. Their genograms often look like a child got hold of the textas. Colour everywhere and squiggly lines as far as the eye can see. After a few months, we revisit and there are a few less squiggly lines and a few less colours. It is then that I show them their old genograms and ask what has happened to make these changes happen. It is a great tool for showing the changes and progress on their healing journey.

So what is in a genogram?

A genogram uses shapes to convey meaning. Squares are males, circles are females, and triangles are pregnancy related. A cross through the shape means a death. Pets even get a jersey! The shapes begin to tell us how many people and what sex they are. At this point, we can add ages, names, dates of birth, and death. We can add as much personal information as is needed.

The next step is for us to add how the relationships are brought together. Otherwise, we just have a bunch of shapes on a page. Marriage is a solid line, divorce has two strokes through it. Dating is a dotted line etc.

Finally, we need to look at the emotional nature of the relationships. Are the relationships harmonious? Are there friendships or even best friends? Are they in love? Perhaps there is even hostility in the relationship. Is there violence, mistrust, or even a family feud? Perhaps there is abuse, neglect, or sexual abuse.

All of these little bits of information come together to paint a picture of how a person’s family and relationships affect them. It shows the patterns and the history that make a person who they are. It can show situations, intergenerational concerns, and family dynamics that create the environment for our clients to struggle. It can also be used as a therapeutic tool to address the struggles and bring about strength.

Sadness and Dread Around the Holidays

Depression during the Holidays
Depression during the Holidays

There can be joy around the holidays for many, but as Christmas week gets closer some fears can grow about whether that time of the year will stimulate feelings of deeper loneliness and inner difficulties. A number of clients came in a few days before Thanksgiving with the dread of getting through the holidays. This also occurs right before Christmas.

For some people, there may be an apprehension about seeing certain family members. There can also be the fear of having nothing to do at all. Feelings of isolation can be accentuated during this time of year because it looks like everyone else is connecting and receiving care. Someone can also be physically surrounded by others but feel very alone and emotionally disconnected.

First of all, if you are supposed to see family members that you have a difficult history with, try to visualize the situation ahead of time. If you anticipate a lot of drama and negative interactions, evaluate whether the gathering makes sense. Can it possibly be an opportunity to have some private meaningful conversations that will help resolve issues from the past? Will there be any supportive people at the gathering or will you feel alone? Each family situation is different and depending on the ability for people to communicate and be honest, certain family dynamics may be too difficult to handle. Think about whether you can attend for a few hours and make the situation in YOUR control, rather than feel passive there. Remember, this can be a way to also turn around the negative history and get a new start.

Sit and visualize the people in your family with whom you have difficulties. Is it possible to see why they may behave the way they do and if there is a way you have contributed to the situation? Of course, certain situations that involved abuse or neglect may be ones where you were a victim and these are often very difficult to see with a new perspective. Some people are able to forgive through compassion and others find it more healthy to cut off contact and not be pulled back into unhealthy dramas. It really depends on the circumstances as well as the personalities involved. For someone with an inpatient psychiatric history, this time of year can be one to carefully watch. Many people are hospitalized around holiday time for mood issues and there can be lots of triggers and associations from the past.

If you are someone suffering from holiday depression due to having no family or loved one to spend time with, preparing ahead for Christmas is important. Do you have a friend in a similar situation? Would you feel better volunteering at a shelter or church function where you can help with meal preparation? This is a way you can feel good about helping others and be around others who volunteer.

Another way to get through the holidays is to remember that you aren’t at work or school for a few days. Are you near a nature center or area that you love? If you are in a warm climate, grabbing a book and a music player can be a way to have a day that is free of stress. You can also stay home and use the day for some meditation, a time of writing and a way to write out your visualizations for next year.

A home study course with yoga and meditation for depression can be studied and practiced during the Christmas week and open new doors. It can be very peaceful to be away from things and just turn inside. Speaking to a counselor a few times in December can be helpful in dealing with this time of year. Remember also that it’s easy to project on others that they are having a perfect time in their lives and to forget that there are tensions and strains in each person’s life which are tough challenges.

The History of Public Housing: Started over 70 Years Ago, yet Still Evolving…


public housing

The American government, it seems, has always been a part of providing public housing, and it’s no surprise considering shelter is one of the basic human needs for survival. Today, the federal government takes general responsibility of the task, but it was not always that way. In fact, prior to the 1930’s, local governments, most often the county, provided the needed shelter. However, it should be noted that, the services during those times were almost exclusively for Caucasian citizens and minorities were often forgotten. So how did public housing reach its current state? Let’s take a look at the trek that it has endured thus far.

In 1937, the federal government became officially involved with public housing under the United States Housing Act. This act truly came out of President Roosevelt’s New Deal which started in 1933. The goal of this act was to improve the current unsafe and unsanitary housing conditions and to lessen the extreme shortage of decent housing for low-income families. At the time, low-income was defined as those who were in the lowest income group and could not afford to pay rent to private landlords. Additionally, the only original qualifications that had to be met were that the families’ incomes could be no greater than five times the cost of rent, or six times in the case of families with three or more children. Efforts were made to reach the goal of the act through loans to public housing agencies to support low-rent public housing construction.

The 1940’s followed with a new president, Truman, and he developed the Office of Housing Expenditure. Then, in 1949 under the office’s guidance, an act was passed, the first Housing Act. This act came out of President Truman’s Fair Deal. The goal was to provide enough funds to rid neighborhoods of slums and develop new housing. The new housing was mostly developed for the World War II veterans and did not provide much aid to those who were not. In fact, the act did not aid those in the slum areas, but instead dislodged them from their homes and forced many low-income families to find new residence.

A second Housing Act was passed in 1954, when President Eisenhower held office. This act was a huge turning point because it focused on conserving and rehabilitating the slum areas. Then later the Housing Act of 1956 made amends for the first housing act by giving relocation payments to all who were displaced.

It’s important to note that up until this point, public housing was discriminatory. The majority of the previous acts were of no aid to minority groups and instead focused on Caucasians and often those not of the lowest economic status. In fact, through the 1950’s very strict policies were in place in many housing facilities. Pregnant women who were not married could be evicted and property damage was charged with outrages fines.

However, beginning in the 1960’s basic rights began to be recognized. This was a time when many were working toward equal treatment of all humans, regardless of race, gender or class. One inspiring social worker who was doing just that was Whitney Young, Jr.  Young advocated for civil rights and his name is still widely known today. It was in 1962, when the Equal Opportunity in Housing Act was passed under President Kennedy, that civil rights and housing became united.

The 1960’s were a huge turning point for public housing, and the majority of the policies started at that point still continue on today. The public housing industry shifted from providing low-grade, segregated and discriminatory housing to a program that ideally should serve everyone equally. Just as social workers like Whiney Young, Jr. did in the past, social workers must continue to advocate today for the best possible solutions to public housing.


RHOL. (n.d.). Government’s role in low-income housing. Retrieved from

Stoloff, J. A. (n.d.). A brief history of public housing. Retrieved from

U.S Dept of Homes & Urban Development. (2007, May 18). Hud historical background. Retrieved from

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