The Network Met

News Networks in Early Modern Europe met for the first time in Antwerp on the last weekend of this November (26th-28th).  Against the backdrop of the Plantin-Moretus museum – the extraordinary reconstruction of the house, offices and workshop of the great printing dynasty – the members of the network gathered to hear and discuss papers by one another, as well as by a number of associate scholars of the network from Belgium, the Netherlands and beyond, and to lay down a framework for the next meeting and the future priorities of our research.

First up was professor Carmen Espejo of Seville (whose Spanish-language report on the event can be seen elsewhere on this blog, and at the website of the “Historia del Periodismo en Andalucia” group.)  Speaking on ‘European communications networks in the early modern age’, Professor Espejo outlined the dilemma of nationalism and internationalism in writing about early modern news, in particular calling into question the conventional distinction offered in the historiography between an English or Northern European model of news culture (protestant and relatively liberal) and the Southern European or Continental model (catholic, centralised, and autocratic), and reflected on how we might begin to draw a more nuanced map of the production, distribution, and re-distribution of news across Europe.

Next was Professor Andrew Pettegree of St Andrews, using data from the immense, and brand-new, Universal Short Title Catalogue to help answer the question of ‘what constitutes a news print in 16th-century Europe?’ The data now available from the USTC raises a host of further questions: what are the characteristics of printed news and how do they change over time?  what was printed news for at different moments in the early modern period? and how can we understand and track the shifting conventions of its presentation? The subsequent discussion turned around the social constructions of the function of news, the consideration of literary forms and style in the presentation of news, and the importance of these considerations to our picture of the economics of newsprint.

We resumed in the afternoon after a tour of the Museum. Paul Arblaster (Zuyd University, Maastricht) then used an array of original materials supplied by the Plantin-Moretus to examine the case of Antwerp as a news entrepôt, the varieties of cheap print that functioned as ways of circulating news locally, the local reconfiguration of international news  (for reasons of ideology or, in one notable instance, of civic pride) and attempts by the government to limit or control the circulation of news. The day was rounded off with an excellent dinner at De Pottekijker, in the Old Town of Antwerp.

Resuming the following morning, we heard from another of our guest speakers: this time Nikolaus Schoebesberger, representing the Fugger newsletters digitisation project (a partnership between the University of Vienna and the Austrian National Library to calendar the 16000+ handwritten newsletters in the collections of Phillipp Edward and Octavian Secundus Fugger).  Nikolaus’s report on the preliminary stages of the project revealed that the newsletters were not, as has been widely supposed hitherto, part of a private network, produced by employees of the Fugger family and preoccupied with commerce to the exclusion of all else, but that they were part of a public early modern media landscape, produced for the most part by professional news-writers, and without any systematic economic focus.

Papers from Nina Lamal (K.U. Leuven) and Helmer Helmers (Universiteit van Amsterdam) followed, each focussing on the reporting of civil upheavals in one country by the news media of another.  Nina examined the reporting of the Dutch Revolt in Italian Avvisi, mapping the information-gathering network of the Guicciardini family, and the evolutions in the tone of their reporting on it; Helmer traced the reporting of the English Civil Wars in Dutch pamphlets (by Dutch and English authors), the propaganda campaigns waged by Royalist and Parliamentarian factions in the Netherlands, and the afterlife and subsequent reappropriations of images from, and ideas of, printed news material.

The project’s co-ordinator, Joad Raymond, rounded off the event with some concluding remarks on the terrain traversed in this first meeting, and some ideas for the substance of the next meeting in Paris, which will focus on issues of linguistic, religious and geographical boundaries in the transmission and circulation of news, on Paris as a centre of news production, and on the semantics of early modern news terminology in the various languages of the project.

Huge thanks are due to all who took part, including of course the network members and guest speakers; to Professor Hans Cools of KU Leuven and Dr Arjan van Dixhoorn of the Universiteit Gent, who sat in on parts of the meeting and contributed valuably to our formal and informal discussions; and especially to Werner van Hoof, Odette Peterink, and Dirk Imhof at the Plantin-Moretus, for allowing us the run of that splendid institution, supplying us with materials to use from its library, and generally  looking after us.


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