Networks, case studies and the big picture: some reflections

Following on from our successful conference last month, News Networks is busy once again, this time in producing a two-volume edition that aims to re-evaluate the history of news in Europe. The aim of the project overall could be summarised as forging its own network in order to link and so affect scholars working in the field, discussing shared problems and different methods in order to come up with genuinely new approaches and cast light on the old.

One of the minor difficulties involved in writing about the News network project has been the proliferation of the word network. We’re a scholarly network looking at early modern news networks, with some using the ideas of network theory and some the technology of network analysis to make sense of them. This is not just a stylistic coincidence, and it’s provoked me to reflect a little on the importance of the term network in the constitution of our scholarly collaboration, our subject, our method of approaching it, and the tools we have for analysing it.

Instead of recapping forty papers from the conference (for a snappier, more organic review see our Storify) or detailing the volumes, I wanted to offer some personal reflections on methods and approaches that have featured in both. The volumes themselves speak to a division and its potential problems: the first is roughly methodological and the second focused on case studies. When dealing with essays of 8000 words or so this isn’t always a straightforward distinction, which makes me think of a discussion that has arisen a few times in the project’s life: the relationship between the ‘big picture’, the isolated case study, and computer analysis.

Some questions come to mind. What are our options when wanting to find out about any given subject? Is there anything between the grand narrative and the detailed case study? Is the point of the latter to help find the former, or should it stand alone, better reflecting the complex and irreducible nature of the ‘big picture’? Further, what do we mean by ‘big picture’; do we mean something fundamentally simply or fundamentally complex, or does this depend on whether we think we can capture it?

When computers and the so-called digital humanities come in, we’re confronted with a similar choice: do we want to focus in on the detail, the story, or have big data show us overarching themes, maps and networks? During the conference, it was pointed out that to think of these as oppositional is misleading; they can be complementary.
Taking the first pairing, perhaps they are not as remote from one another as first thought : the case study contains and contributes to wider narratives, and the wider narratives carry exemplars and the sometimes invisible support of myriad smaller details that can be excavated at will. I would say that the same can be said of computer analysis: it is not alien to the narrative case study, it is just one of several tools that contribute to writing history. We can use data analysis as well as narrative writing to uncover key trends, to build a case study, or to do both at once.

Likewise, digital possibilities should not be posited as the saviour of truth in history; there won’t be a computer programme that we can put all our collective data into and churn out the exact picture of the past, because it is not lying there waiting to be discovered. But it would churn out something new, new angles and a new approach, or promote for further study aspects that previously had seemed marginal, or had been hidden entirely.

It struck me that there are several things one could be talking about when using the term ‘network’ in relation to this or any other project. Firstly, there’s the group itself, the network of scholars that we’ve created. Then there are the networks we’re studying, the early modern connections that facilitated the transfer of news, thinking about postal routes and social groups (political, mercantile, confessional and so on). This, when considered in terms of network theory, divides again: we can think about these early modern networks in light of the ideas of network theory, so applying to them what we know about modern social networks (their non-random nature and tendency to cluster, the importance of hubs, that there are factors other than distance that influence the shortest routes across the network) and/or we can conduct network analysis on our historical data , like Ruth Ahnert’s impressive data analysis and visualisation of an underground network of Protestant correspondents.

So, you don’t need a computer science degree to get networks: you can start thinking in terms of them without doing computer analysis. A popular introductory text is Linked: The New Science of Networks, by Albert-laszlo Barabasi, and Franco Moretti’s Distant Reading and Matt Jockers’ Macroanalysis also have relevant chapters (with thanks to Ruth for the recommendations).

To start exploring data you need two things: the data itself (in a useful and valid format) and questions you want answers to. Exploring pivot tables in Excel is a good start for getting used to manipulating data, and seeing how it responds as and when you change your terms. Then there’s a variety of data analysis and data visualisation open source software, including Gephi and OpenProcessing (there are also massive corporate tools, for example Palantir, used a lot in law enforcement, and i2 Analyst Notebook, as used in the TV series The Wire).

One interesting DH project on the horizon will make use of the Centre for Editing Lives and Letters’ Correspondence of Thomas Bodley digital edition: Joined Up Early Modern Diplomacy. Dr Robyn Adams is starting the second phase of research on a database of letters to and from Bodley, the first phase of which involved myself as research assistant and Dr Adams as editor transcribing and putting online over a thousand of his letters. I’m going to end this blog post with a few thoughts on this data.

Exploring the data in the aforementioned excel pivot tables allows you to quickly and easily summarise specifics. For example, using this I can create a couple of charts that show how many letters Bodley received from each of his contacts, and how many he sent.



Interestingly, these appear to follow something called a power law distribution, where there are a few massively key players, which decays to many more contacts who play much smaller roles. This is as opposed to a bell curve, for example, which indicates that what’s being measured is random, with a common middle range, such as people’s height or IQ – there is a norm. A power law distribution is an indicator that the group is not random. It is what we see when we look at social networks, and can also be understood in terms of the perhaps better known 80/20 rule. This is a phenomenon that crops up repeatedly in the social, natural and economic world: that 20% of activity tends to result in 80% of the outcome. The figures for the Bodley letters seem to behave similarly: 18% of writers to Bodley account for 80.2% of the letters he received.

In social networks, these important people are hubs – those who are connected to much more people than most, and help facilitate interaction across the whole network. It seems that there are always some people who are hugely more influential and well-connected than others, and they don’t just have to be those at the top of the social or political tree, either.

Whilst it’s gratifying that the graph reproduces something we would expect, and essentially that we already know, it’s only the tip of the iceberg. The next phase of the project is to represent some of the data visually, to ask it new questions and raise new points of interest by presenting the information in new ways. Perhaps the project will come up with a time-delay animation of the people and places Bodley writes to, showing the changing relationships and importance of different hubs on the political scene. Perhaps it can track the movements of the bearers of letters across the geographical and social landscape.

To come back to the earlier point about case studies and wider pictures, the Bodley correspondence is limited by what defines it: it is the correspondence surrounding one man, and so begins as a partial network. Can its specificity be a positive, though? Its criteria mean that it has boundaries, and so can be held in one place and looked at from all angles. Perhaps, just as in a power law distribution, there is no norm in the relationship between big picture and specific case study, and so we cannot take them as representative of the whole. But perhaps that is the wrong way to think of it: the whole is a complex set of constantly moving relationships and processes, and each case study, analysis and narrative recovers one version of what went before.

Elizabeth Williamson

False Provenance and News Networks: The Deceptions of Edwarde Allde

A Guest Post on News Networks this week, from the ever-excellent

13 August 1621 was a bad day for the printer Edward Allde. Along with the bookseller Thomas Archer, he was summoned before the court of the Stationers’ Company in London and informed that, at the request of the Secretary of State, he was to be imprisoned. More than that: his printing press was to be broken.[1] The government and the Stationers’ Company certainly didn’t want Allde printing any more. They weren’t to have their wish. Allde’s career in the early 1620s is an example both of the scattergun and rather ineffective English approach to censorship, and of the complex relationship of the English print market to European news networks.

What had Allde and Archer done to rattle the authorities to this extent? Their imprisonment has assumed great significance in the history of serialised printed news in England, due to a much-quoted postscript in a letter by the Cambridge scholar Joseph Mead, dated 22 September 1621. Mead writes that ‘My Corrantoer Archer was layd by the heeles for making or adding to Corrantoes &c as they say’.[2] Corantos were broadsheets of foreign news, which before this point had been produced in the Netherlands and imported to England. According to the court record, however, Archer wasn’t imprisoned for producing them. Rather, both he and Allde were charged with publishing a pamphlet entitled A briefe description of the reasons that make the declaration of the ban made against the King of Bohemia […] of no value.[3]

A briefe description is a quarto pamphlet dealing with a single issue: the Imperial ban against the erstwhile Palatine Elector Frederick V, son-in-law of James I, who had been driven into exile following his ill-fated bid for the crown of Bohemia. James’s insistence upon seeking Frederick’s restoration by diplomatic means meant that texts dealing with the situation trod a dangerous line – or, as in the case of A briefe description, stepped blithely over it by openly criticising the Emperor.

Presumably aware that A briefe description was likely to touch a nerve, Archer and Allde didn’t put their names to it. Rather, they attributed it to ‘Arnold Meuris bookeseller at the signe of the Bible’, in The Hague.

This appears to be a reference to Aert Meuris, a prolific and wealthy printer from The Hague who, amongst other things, produced news pamphlets for the Court of the Province of Holland.[4]

In the light of this fakery, it may seem perverse to claim A briefe description as an example of international news networks in action. The pamphlet is polemical commentary rather than ‘news’, and its title page carries a barefaced lie about its provenance. However, texts like this are important when seeking to understand how foreign news functioned in England in the early 1620s.

Although it could be argued that A briefe description isn’t a ‘news’ text, exactly, it is news-adjacent in more ways than one. Mead’s postscript suggests that Archer was also producing – or at least selling – corantos, Moreover, such texts could be in themselves sources of news: A briefe description carries information about the Imperial ban as well as a polemic against it. The question of whether texts like this should make their way into, for example, statistical analyses of news printing is rather too big to tackle here. However, we’d be mistaken to dismiss texts like A briefe description when considering news publication and circulation.

The fact that Archer and Allde falsified a provenance for A briefe description is itself rather telling. The lie on the title page of A briefe description may not describe a real movement of texts between The Hague and London – but it can tell us some interesting things about how such international networks were perceived, and how canny stationers like Archer and Allde manipulated these perceptions.

Falsifying foreign imprints appears to have been a frequent practice for Allde. His imprisonment appears to have been quite short, as on 8 October 1621 he was before the court again, for having ‘latelie Imprinted diverse bookes without lycense or entrance, and being called into question for the same, hath used verie unfitting wordes and scandalous speeches of the Master and wardens, and table of Assistantes’. ‘Diverse books’ makes it clear that he was known for underhand printing on some scale; this is supported by the number of pamphlets with false foreign imprints that are associated with him. One of these was A proclamation made by the high and mighty Fredericke by the grace of God King of Bohemia (1620) – printed at Prague, according to the imprint. In 1621 he also printed two further pamphlets attributed to Meuris, both of which dealt with Dutch politics. The Stationers’ Court ordered ‘that he shall not be warned to attend anie more as a liverie man untill he shall submitt himselfe to this table’ – which he didn’t do for nearly two years.[5]

Despite the suspension of his livery membership, and the court-ordered damage inflicted upon his press, Allde continued to print pamphlets about foreign affairs – most of which have either no imprint, or a falsified foreign one. In 1622 he printed a pamphlet of Dutch news purporting to be from Amsterdam, as well as two news pamphlets claiming to have been printed in The Hague but without named printers. He even printed a translation of Ernst von Mansfeld’s Appollogie alleged to have been printed at Heidelberg – an unlikely story, given that Heidelberg was under siege by Spanish and Imperial forces.[6]


Allde was not the only stationer to engage in such practices. The printer William Stansby and the bookseller Nathaniel Butter were imprisoned for a controversial pamphlet purporting to be from The Hague: A plaine demonstration of the unlawful succession of Ferdinand the second, which argued that the Emperor was the product of an incestuous union.[7] Stansby’s excuse – that Butter persuaded him to print the book because ‘manie other treatises concerning the affaires of Forraine Princes were publiquely sold without contradicion’ – is undermined if one accepts F. S. Ferguson’s conclusion that several of these ‘other treatises’ (themselves attributed to named Dutch printers) were surreptitiously produced in the same print shop as A plaine demonstration.[8]

Why did these stationers falsify imprints? The main reason was presumably self-preservation. Publishing texts about the conflict in the Empire could bring uncomfortable and expensive punishment, as Archer and Allde found out. Naming an existing foreign printer like Meuris could give extra credibility to the deception, as long as no-one wrote to The Hague to check.

There were also sound commercial reasons for claiming that a text had been published in The Hague. Meuris was rather closer to the action than Archer – especially given that The Hague was the location of the Palatine court in exile. The Hague was also, like Amsterdam, a known centre of news publication, where corantos were produced for the English market. Allde’s false imprints testify to a sense of distance. London was a long way from the places where the events described in these texts took place. It also wasn’t central to the European news economy in the way that Amsterdam and The Hague were. News from Europe and beyond reached London later and with more difficulty.

One reader’s periphery is of course another reader’s node. News obtained from London-based booksellers and newsletter writers fed into sociable and professional networks throughout England and Scotland. It’s important to recognise how, by exploiting a known international link, Allde and Archer expressed a sense of connectedness. Their deception relied on the assumption that their readers knew that texts about continental news, in English, could and did come from Dutch printing houses.

The notion that London was at once linked to and removed from European news networks is key to understanding how news functioned in early 1620s England. These falsified imprints aren’t just examples of stationers behaving badly. They speak to a growing, but complex, sense of connection between the booksellers of London and the great flood of information passing through nodes in European news networks. When considering how the movement of news may have influenced readers’ mindsets – how they might have seen themselves and the texts they read in relation to international networks – one could do worse than examine the subterfuges of stationers.


[1] William A. Jackson (ed.), Records of the Court of the Stationers’ Company 1602 to 1640 (London: The Bibliographical Society, 1957), p.146

[2] Joseph Mead to Sir Martic Stuteville, 22 September 1621, British Library Harley MSS 389, ff.121r-2v (f.122r).

[3] A briefe description of the reasons that make the declaration of the ban made against the King of Bohemia, as being Elector Palatine, dated the 22. of Ianuarie last past, of no value nor worth, and therefore not to be respected (‘the Hayf’ [London]: Arnold Meuris [Edward Allde for Thomas Archer], 1621, STC.11353).

[4] Craig E. Harline, Pamphlets, Printing, and Political Culture in the Early Dutch Republic, (Dordrecht: Martinus Nijhoff Publishers, 1987) pp.97-99; Otto Lankhorst, ‘Newspapers in the Netherlands in the seventeenth century’, in The Politics of Information in Early Modern Europe (London and New York: Routledge, 2001), pp.151-159 (p.154).

[5] Jackson, pp.138, 159. Allde remained suspended from the livery until he submitted to the court on 5 July 1623.

[6] The appollogie of the illustrious Prince Ernestus, Earle of Mansfield, &c (‘Heidelbergh’ [London]: [Edward Allde], 1622, STC.24945).

[7] A plaine demonstration of the vnlawful succession of the now emperour Ferdinand the Second, because of the incestuous marriage of his parents (‘the Hage’ [London]: [William Stansby f. Nathaniel Butter], 1620, STC.10814).

[8] William Stansby to Sir George Calvert, SP. Dom., James I, vol. 157, art.41, printed in Greg, ed., A Companion to Arber, p.211. A Short-Title Catalogue of Books Printed in England, Scotland, & Ireland, and of English Books Printed Abroad: 1475-1640, Vol.1: A-H, first compiled by A.W. Pollard & G. R. Redgrave, 2nd edn. begun by W. A Jackson and F.S. Ferguson, completed by Katherine F. Pantzer (London: The Bibliographical Society, 1986), p.481 (STC,10814). Ferguson thought that this press ‘might be that of W. Jones’.

Mediterranean Newsprint

(What follows is a Spanish-language account of a new collection of essays, on single-event newsletters and printed avvisi in the early modern Mediterranean world, featuring contributions from News Networks members and collaborators.)


Las relaciones de sucesos (avvisi a stampa, en italiano) representan el primer periodismo de la Historia. Relatos ocasionales de un acontecimiento con fines informativos, en su mayoría anónimos e impresos, las relaciones surgen en el siglo XV, con la invención de la imprenta, y perduran hasta el XX, pero se desarrollan sobre todo en el XVII y XVIII. Sin embargo, nuestro conocimiento acerca de ese primer periodismo de la Historia ha sido, durante mucho tiempo, aproximado o parcial, principalmente por la dificultad de acceder a los documentos originales, pero también por la propia naturaleza de estos documentos: impresos efímeros, baratos y de poca calidad material, considerados por muchos como géneros menores o infraliteratura.

Urge, por tanto, la recuperación y la revalorización de estos documentos antiguos, fuentes esenciales para hacer la historia del periodismo. Y ese es precisamente el principal mérito de la obra Proto-giornalismo e letteratura. Avvisi a stampa, relaciones de sucesos, que acaba de publicarse. Editada por Gabriel Andrés (Università di Cagliari), experto en la literatura del Siglo de oro, se trata de una compilación de nueve estudios (siete están escritos en español, uno en italiano y otro en catalán) que exploran el tema de los orígenes del periodismo y sus conexiones con la literatura desde una perspectiva mediterránea. Pese a su carácter colectivo, los autores de la obra, investigadores y colaboradores de la Sociedad Internacional para el Estudio de las Relaciones de Sucesos (SIERS), comparten, demuestran y ejemplifican una tesis transversal que afirma que la circulación de avisos impresos, relaciones de sucesos y otros textos afines a lo largo y ancho del Mediterráneo durante el Antiguo Régimen tuvo un alcance paneuropeo y supuso la aparición de una serie de fenómenos de naturaleza protoperiodística, literaria o paraliteraria que a menudo han sido obviados por la historiografía. O dicho de otro modo, abordan la aparición de este primer mercado de la comunicación en los albores de la Edad Moderna, incidiendo, como ya señalaba Agustín Redondo, en la plasticidad de unos documentos históricos, las relaciones, que son capaces de absorber y ser absorbidos por otros textos, de conciliar diversos géneros.

Tal y como afirma Giuseppina Ledda – otra destacada especialista en la materia – en la Presentación a esta nueva obra, “il problema del rapporto relaciones – pregiornalismo – giornalismo, richiede ancora precisazioni. Nelle relaciones, cartas, avisos, cartas de avisos… sono state individuale le prime forme del giornalismo, si è parlato di protogiornalismo. Necessario un invito alla prudenza: le relazioni circolano tra e con le varie forme del protogiornalismo. È lecito riconoscere alle relaciones de sucesos una identità di genere conferita loro dalle note caratteristiche già segnalate: editoriali, di vendita e destinazione. Credo piuttosto opportuno parlare di compresenza e di possibili interscambi con i generi affini” (p. 9).

El presente volumen se inicia con el trabajo de Henry Ettinghausen, experto en la materia que defiende el carácter internacional que caracterizaba a la transmisión de las noticias y a los medios informativos europeos desde sus orígenes. Bajo ese prisma, Ettinghausen lamenta que en Italia se haya menospreciado e ignorado el estudio de esos primeros productos preperiodísticos de la prensa, las relaciones, y argumenta que en el país transalpino, lo mismo que en España y en otros países europeos, floreció una prensa impresa casi a partir de la invención de la imprenta, llegando incluso a concluir que sería más apropiado llamar relationi a los equivalentes italianos de las relaciones de sucesos españolas, en detrimento de su denominación actual, avvisi a stampa.

Desde esa misma preocupación historiográfica por confirmar el carácter paneuropeo del primer periodismo, Carmen Espejo realiza un ejercicio de historia comparada al revisar un lugar común entre los especialistas del campo que afirma que el fenómeno del gaceterismo llega tarde a España y sólo en su modelo menos sugerente, el del periodismo oficial. A partir del ejemplo de la Gazeta de Roma, publicada en Valencia al menos en 1619, Espejo reclama que el género periodístico llegó a la Península ibérica al mismo tiempo y con las mismas fórmulas editoriales que pueden observarse en el resto de Europa.

Esta primera parte de la obra, titulada “Avvisi a stampa e relaciones de sucesos”, es la más interesante para los especialistas en el campo de la historia del periodismo. Después de los estudios más globales de Ettinghausen y Espejo, se suceden tres trabajos más concretos: dos de ellos, el de Jorge García López (Universidad de Girona) y el de Francesca Leonetti (Università G. D’Annunzio di Chieti-Pescara), abordan el fenómeno de la reedición y la refundición de relaciones sobre un mismo acontecimiento, fenómeno característico entre los siglos XVII y XIX. Se trata de la batalla de Lepanto (1571), en el caso del primero, y del romance de Francisca la Cautiva, en el caso de la segunda. Completa esta sección el trabajo de Marcial Rubio Árquez (Università G. D’Annunzio di Chieti-Pescara), que profundiza en la intertextualidad que se produce entre las relaciones de sucesos y la novela picaresca, localizando e indicando las relaciones que Mateo Alemán usó como fuente para contar la boda de la reina Margarita de Austria con el católico Felipe III, descrita en el Guzmán apócrifo.

En la última década y al amparo de la SIERS[1] o de ambiciosos proyectos de investigación como BIDISO[2], la producción científica en torno a las relaciones de sucesos se ha incrementado exponencialmente, sobre todo en España (Galicia, Navarra, Andalucía y Cataluña), pero también en Portugal e Italia, demostrando la potencialidad de un género que ya no es considerado marginal, sino marginado, ni infraliterario, sino paraliterario. Tras una primera fase de trabajo bibliográfico y descriptivo, basado en una ingente actividad previa de localización, catalogación y digitalización que aún perdura, han proliferado obras como la que reseñamos en estas líneas. Se trata de estudios monográficos o compilatorios que han dado paso a una investigación crítica e interpretativa de los fondos documentales hallados, desde enfoques interdisciplinares que combinan lo artístico, lo literario, lo periodístico, lo histórico, lo religioso y lo socio-antropológico.

Sin embargo, la intensa y prolífica actividad investigadora en torno a avisos y relaciones que se ha producido en el ámbito español no encuentra parangón en otros países europeos. En Italia, por ejemplo, este fenómeno sólo se ha estudiado mínimamente pese a que también existió un mercado de noticias auténtico y propio, en el que se observa una copiosa producción así como una red de traducción e intercambio de este tipo de hojas volantes. Ahí radica la otra gran aportación de esta obra, que dedica su segunda parte (“La Sardegna, relaciones e materiali affini”) a estudiar, desde un enfoque micro, el ambiente cultural de la isla italiana de Cerdeña. Y lo hace prestando especial atención a las relaciones de fiestas, a las representaciones teatrales y a los pliegos poéticos.

En el primer capítulo de esta segunda parte dedicada a Cerdeña, Gabriel Andrés se centra en documentos que se caracterizan por una triple función festiva, narrativa e informativa y por su gran extensión. La Copia de la relación sobre una fiesta teatral sarda interesa no sólo por lo que se refiere a la historia de los usos y costumbres de la aristocracia sarda del siglo XVII sino también por el hecho de que la relación sobre la fiesta es repartida y leída durante la representación teatral, pasando a formar parte de la misma fiesta. A continuación, Marta Galiñanes Gallén (Università di Sassari) parte de un caso concreto (la Historia general de la Isla y Reyno de Sardeña, de Francisco de Vico) para reivindicar el uso de las relaciones de sucesos extraordinarios como fuentes históricas siempre que se tenga en cuenta su intención propagandística y su capacidad para manipular al lector. Por su parte, María Dolores García Sánchez (Università di Cagliari) rescata un interesante pliego suelto poético de principios del siglo XVII de los fondos de la Biblioteca Universitaria de Cagliari. Obra del escritor sardo Jacinto Arnal de Bolea, se trata del único ejemplar del que se tiene noticia. En el último capítulo, Joan Armangué (Università di Cagliari) destaca el especial interés que la Colección Bonsoms de la Biblioteca de Cataluña tiene para la historiografía sarda, ya que conserva una serie de documentos impresos (pragmáticas, privilegios) relacionados con el Reino de Cerdeña, datados entre los siglos XVI y XVII.

Publicada por la editorial FrancoAngeli, la presente obra se encuadra en la Colección Metodi e prospettive. Se trata de una colección de volúmenes, monografías y misceláneas en el campo de la lingüística, la filología y la crítica literaria. Publica estudios de corte innovador e interdisciplinar, con especial atención a los aspectos culturales del proceso literario, a la hibridación y a la problemática de los géneros, así como a la edición de textos inéditos o que propongan una nueva visión crítica.

En conclusión, el principal mérito de esta obra reside en su capacidad para conservar a lo largo de sus páginas la coherencia temática, superando el obstáculo inicial de la heterogeneidad inconexa que representa su condición de miscelánea, lo cual es un acierto de su editor Gabriel Andrés. Asimismo, esta compilación de estudios constituye una aportación de gran valor en el campo de la historia del periodismo durante la Edad Moderna, especialmente en el marco de las relaciones hispano-italianas, puesto que es capaz de conjugar un enfoque micro (Cerdeña) con una visión pan-europea de los orígenes de la actividad periodística y de sus relaciones con la literatura.

(Francisco Baena, Universidad de Sevilla)

[1] La SIERS es una asociación cultural sin ánimo de lucro que tiene como finalidad  fomentar el estudio interdisciplinar de las relaciones de sucesos producidas en la Edad Moderna, tanto en España como en otros lugares de Europa. Para ello promueve el acopio de información bibliográfica relacionada con el tema, fondos bibliográficos en cualquier soporte o la organización de charlas y reuniones científicas internacionales de carácter periódico (Alcalá de Henares, La Coruña, Cagliari, París, Besançon, San Millán de la Cogolla y próximamente Girona). El último gran logro de esta sociedad científica, que cumple quince años en 2013, se ha producido con motivo de la publicación del número 166/67 de la revista Anthropos, dedicado a la literatura popular, el cual recoge varios estudios escritos por investigadores de la SIERS sobre el tema de las relaciones de sucesos.

[2] BIDISO, siglas de “Biblioteca Digital Siglo de Oro”, es un proyecto de investigación y desarrollo tecnológico cofinanciado por el Ministerio de Ciencia e Innovación de España y el Fondo Europeo de Desarrollo Regional (FEDER). Dirigido por la profesora Sagrario López Poza (Universidade da Coruña), se dedica a la catalogación, al estudio y a la digitalización de relaciones de sucesos españolas y ofrece el fruto de su trabajo en la página web

Venetian Proceedings – A report on News Networks’ fifth workshop

News Networks in Early Modern Europe recently held its fifth workshop, hosted this time at the Universita Ca’ Foscari in Venice.  As usual, we heard an array of papers from junior and senior scholars, as well as members of the network, as well as considerable input from interested auditors.

Proceedings began with a paper from Massimo Petta on printed Italian avvisi, using Milanese printers to help trace the networks of the printed newsletter and the emergence of its characteristic layout; particularly the gradual supplanting of data giving the source of the news by publishing data in the paratextual materials.  Petta discovered that the networks established by Milanese printers of newssheets came to be used by booksellers and printers for the general trade as well; and he noted that most of the networks he describes have two levels, a more circumscribed circulation of avvisi among Italian cities on the one hand, and a wider circulation, often in different forms and genres.  Subsequent discussion of a number of points raised the question of how to define an avviso, and whether its chief characteristics reside in the discourse itself or the paratextual materials (revisiting a point raised in the Antwerp meeting, as to whether single-event printed newsletters qualify as avvisi.)

Chiara Palazzo used the example of the battle of Chaldiran, in present day Iran, between the Ottomans and Persians in 1514 to elaborate the structure and function of the Venetian news network in the early 16th century.  She demonstrated in detail the overlaying of a commercial network on a diplomatic network that provided a complex series of staging posts, suggesting at least three principle lines along which news could emerge from the Ottoman empire and the Eastern Mediterranean.  As well as fully articulating the complexity of a network which is frequently treated simply as a connection between two points – Venice and Constantinople – Palazzo also attended closely to the extent to which news of Ottoman military ventures were the subject of interpretation, wishful thinking, and downright distortion.

The first afternoon concluded with a roundtable, with each of the project’s core members discussing the mechanisms of censorship and state control in their area of geographical expertise.  Paul Arblaster, dealing with the Hapsburg Netherlands, traced the development of press laws from religiously motivated prohibitions of particular titles, authors and types of book, to systems of prepublication licensing, experiments with self-regulation by the press (Philip II ordered the printers of Antwerp to form a guild in 1557 for the purposes of regulating the trade; the same year as his wife, Mary I of England, incorporated the Stationers’ Company of London, it was pointed out.)  He also outlined the complexities of the various authorities empowered to license books in the region, pointing out that rivalries between these were exploitable by printers and booksellers.  It was also suggested that there were instances where general press laws were created to camouflage strikes strike at particular works without wishing to give the targeted work notoriety that would follow. There was considerable interest in whether this strategy might have been imitated in other parts of Europe.


André Belo added some remarks on the structures of censorship in Portugal.  He outlined a tripartite system of censorship – the crown, Inquisition, and diocesan authorities, and noted that in 1642 Portuguese gazettes were banned; they were reinstated in 1642, provided they refrained from reporting on domestic news.  Although officially barred from taking partisan positions in their reporting, the Portuguese gazettes found ways of making their editorial positions easily understood.

Carmen Espejo emphasized the extent to which Spanish news managed to circulate effectively, despite the historiographical commonplace that the chokehold of censorship by the Inquisition and the Spanish crown prevented it.  (Antonio Castillo Gomez made a similar point in a different context during the Seville workshop, pointing to the culture of libels, ballads and writing on walls that fashioned local networks of news in 17th-century Spain, and frequently exploited or was actually occasioned by rivalry between branches of civil and religious authority.)  As elsewhere, Espejo pointed out, censorship laws were inconsistently applied and rested in the hands of multiple authorities.

Mario Infelise outlined the structures of state control of printing in the Venetian Republic – whose printers’ Guild was also set up in the 1550s, around the same time as the Antwerp and London guilds.  Unlike many other European powers, and although its system of censorship included a reader who checked books for religiously heterodox opinions, the system of imprimatur was not used; ultimate authority over the publication of printed matter resided with the Riformatori dello Studio di Padova, whose authority extended over all cultural matters.

Turning again to Northern Europe, Joad Raymond emphasized both the relative ease with which the press could be controlled in England and Wales given its concentration in a single centre, but also the ad hoc nature of much of the legislation that addressed the book trade; and pointed to Charles II’s preference for blunt over legislative instruments for regulating the world of print, as gangs of thugs were used to beat up the authors and printers of books displeasing to the crown.

The meeting resumed the following morning at the Venetian State Archives, whose astonishing collection is housed in a cluster of three adjoining convents and whose shelves contain over 70 kilometres of documents.  A guided tour of these was followed by a demonstration of the scope, content, and organization of the archive by Mario Infelise.  Bound volumes of weekly dispatches from ambassadors stationed all over Europe were shown, along with the weekly abstracts of information received by the senate that was sent back to the Republic’s agents, texts of avvisi gathering information from Venice for dispatch to other European centres, and a unique example of the simplified avvisi printed to hang on shop walls and rafters – known in French as lardons. Infelise also showed the state documentation of the regulation of printing in Venice, which from the mid-16th century provides a fairly complete picture, including the first documented printing privilege in Venice (from 1459) and the registers of the guild.


After lunch Sheila Barker gave a presentation on the production of Roman avvisi, and their procurement by the Medici Grand Dukes of Florence, based on the astonishing collection of 200,000 examples in the Medici Archive.  Barker drew attention to the urgency with which news left Rome, the systems of checking and comparing multiple avvisi used by Cosimo de Medici and his secretaries to establish the reliability of the news they received, and pointed to the Medici interest in how Florentine affairs were reported, the use of avvisi as a sort of market report on the bribery that was an essential part of Roman religious and political life and which formed an important part of the political news of the Italian peninsula, and the development of news as a species of entertainment  (pointing in particular to the lavishly detailed descriptions of plays and processions).

Lodovica Braida then gave a paper on printed letter collections, demonstrating how their origins as style manuals did not preclude their use as vehicles for current political information and for the popular dissemination of heterodox religious views in the guise of manuals of fine style.  Braida also pointed out that the information or views contained could acquire fresh relevance in subsequent editions, noting in particular the omission of controversial materials in editions of Paolo Manutio’s (the son of the great Venetian typographer) collection of Lettere Volgari around the time of the Council of Trent.

Joad Raymond’s paper offered some reflections on how to theorise news networks and posed a challenge to the network, arguing that the national and nationalistic biases of the historiographies of news communication established in the 19th and early 20th centuries have not been effectively broken down, either by transnational case studies or by the achievements in recent bibliographical scholarship and the histories of reading and of the book.  Raymond proposed that it might be possible to conceptualise the history of news communication through the optic of social network theory, which provides mathematical models for understanding complex networks as self-organising rather than random systems.

The workshop resumed and concluded the following day with Laura Carnelos’s paper on the market for cheap print in 16th– and 17th-century Venice, detailing the sites of exchange, the classification of printed matter in the Venetian book trade, the role of itinerant distributors, and practices for regulating it.  Among many interesting points that came up in discussion, it was noted that charlatans and mountebanks traded under official licence, protecting one aspect of their livelihood (as traders in cheap printed matter) in order to better restrain another (as hawkers of worthless remedies.)

Thanks are due to everyone who attended, as well as all the contributors, to Mario Infelise and the Universita Ca’ Foscari in particular for their work in organizing and hosting the event, and, as always, to the Leverhulme Trust for funding it.  The next News Networks event will be the London Symposium, News and the shape of Europe, at Queen Mary from 26-28 July: watch this space, and the website ( for more details.


News Networks in Venice – A Spanish-language report.


El V Seminario de la red “News Networks in Early Modern Europe” se celebró en una de las sedes de la universidad veneciana Ca’Foscari, entre los días 7 y 9 de marzo de 2013. Mario Infelise, miembro de la red y profesor en la Ca’Foscari, acogió al grupo de ponentes e invitados  con la cortesía que es habitual en él.

Las sesiones del seminario dieron comienzo el día 7 de marzo a las 13:00 con la intervención de Massimo Petta (Università di Milano), “Obscure printers, unexpected connections: the role of C17th Milanese printers in early modern news networks”. Petta partió del argumento de que los primeros impresos noticieros basaron su credibilidad en la reputación del informante, pero, a medida que el mercado de los avisos se hacía más extenso, este criterio fue sustituido por la estandarización: es decir, el reconocimiento por parte del público de las marcas propias del género, tanto en el paratexto como en el texto. Algunos impresores de avisos en la Italia del XVI, como Antonio Blado, dieron su forma definitiva al género. La presentación de los avisos aparece entonces estandarizada hacia 1570.

En la siguiente sesión, Chiara Palazzo (Università Ca’Foscari, Venecia), disertó sobre el tema “The Venetian News Networks at the beginning of XVIth Century: the Battle of Cialdiran (august 23rd, 1514)”.  Tomando como ejemplo la Batalla de Cialdaran en la que se enfrentaron turcos y persas, Palazzo estudia las rutas por las que la información sobre el devenir de la batalla – favorable a los turcos – llegó a Italia. La vía principal parte de Constantinopla y llega por tierra a Italia a través de Ragusa y Venecia; otra ruta, por mar, rodea la península helénica y llega a Venecia; otra más, por mar y tierra, parte desde Constantinopla a Corfú y de ahí a Otranto, Nápoles y Venecia. Aunque el origen de la mayor parte de esta información era diplomático – el representante veneciano en Constantinopla enviaba un informe a la metrópolis cada quincena -, la información procedente de fuentes comerciales confluía con esta primera y a veces incluso la precedía. El caso de Chialdaran es especialmente significativo porque el resultado de la batalla fue contrario a los intereses venecianos y europeos: la información circuló así con una calculada lentitud, y las interpretaciones de los avisos abundaban en el desmentido de la victoria turca. A pesar de ello, afirmó Palazzo, los informes eran precisos y veraces.

En la tarde de este primer día del seminario se celebró la mesa redonda “Censorship and state control in Early Modern Europe”. Participaron en ella los miembros permanentes de la red Joad Raymond, Paul Arblaster, André Belo, Mario Infelise y Carmen Espejo. Las intervenciones pusieron de manifiesto que las instituciones y procedimientos de la censura fueron muy similares en todo el continente, mientras que Inglaterra supone una notable excepción gracias a la presencia de una institución de carácter gremial como la Stationers’ Company. Por otro lado, se puso de manifiesto que, en todos los territorios analizados, la efectividad de la censura era tan sólo relativa, en tanto que actuó a menudo de manera inconsecuente o caprichosa. Este último argumento sirvió a Raymond para apuntar que en buena medida la eficacia se obtuvo, paradójicamente, gracias a la inseguridad y la tendencia a la autocensura que esta actuación errática provocaba en impresores y autores.

En la mañana del día 8 de marzo el grupo se reunió en el Archivo di Stato de Venecia. Tras una visita guiada a los impresionantes fondos del archivo, Mario Infelise (Università Ca’Foscari) ofreció una muestra de las colecciones de avisos manuscritos e impresos, además de otros documentos fundamentales para la comprensión de la historia del primer periodismo, que se encuentran conservados en el Archivo. Infelise explicó que el sistema político y diplomático de la República de Venecia obligaba a sus representantes en otros territorios a enviar relaciones de avisos periódicos – quincenales – al Senado de la república. Estas relaciones o despachos eran leídos y discutidos en voz alta en el Senado, y un sumario de todos los avisos recibidos se copiaba y enviaba al cuerpo diplomático también periódicamente.

La tarde de esta misma jornada dio inicio con el trabajo presentado por Sheila Barker (The Medici Archive Project, Florencia), “The circunstances of avviso production in early C-17th Rome”. Barker analizó el circuito que permitió a los Medici del XVI florentino recibir una considerable cantidad de avisos, generalmente procedentes de Venecia incluso cuando referían noticias de localidades cercanas a Florencia como Roma o Lucca. Aún así, los Medici parecen haber desconfiado de la veracidad de estos avisos, de manera que multiplicaban las fuentes desde las que obtenían la información para poder contrastar las noticias.

En su intervención titulada “Religious dissent, polítical information and historical speculation in 16th century’s epistolary collection”, Lodovica Braida (Università degli Studi di Milano) abordó la importante edición de colecciones de cartas que se dio en la Italia del Quinientos. Braida demostró cómo algunas de estas colecciones se utilizaron para difundir subrepticiamente nociones religiosas o políticas sobre las que pesaba una prohibición de la censura.

La sesión de tarde concluyó con la presentación de Joad Raymond (Queen Mary University of London), “News networks: putting the news and networks back in”. En ella recorrió la evolución de la historiografía más contemporánea para señalar aquellas aportaciones que explican el cambio del paradigma metodológico con el que se estudia la historia del periodismo de la Edad Moderna en las dos últimas décadas: desde la nueva bibliografía material a la historia de la lectura, la historia social o incluso la historia oral, entre otras. Sin embargo, según Raymond, persiste la incapacidad para dibujar un modelo de red que explique la diseminación de las noticias en la Europa de la primera Edad Moderna. En su intervención propuso un modelo de red de inspiración matemática que permitiría distinguir los nudos centrales de los periféricos, independiente de su posición geográfica.

Finalmente, el día 9 se cerró el seminario con la intervención de Laura Carnelos (Università Ca’Foscari), titulada “The book network: selling songs and reports in 17th-18th century Venice”. En su trabajo Carnelos desveló las redes de gazeteros y “charlatanes” que se repartían el mercado de la prensa popular en Venecia, prestando especial atención a las formas y los modos con los que llevaban a cabo sus actuaciones y a la legislación que intentó, casi siempre sin éxito, controlar estas prácticas.


The Venice Workshop in Photos

ImageThe meeting assembles (note posters for the forthcoming conference in the centre of the table – our very own attempt at creating a news network by handbill distribution).ImageMassimo Petta explaining his circuit of standardisation for Milanese newsprint.ImageA very small fraction of the 70km of shelving holding original documents in the Archivio di Stato…Image…of whose astonishing holdings Mario Infelise led a demonstration.ImageAfter a brief downpour, we returned to the Universita Ca’ Foscari…Image…where we heard papers from Sheila Barker, Lodovica Braida, and Joad Raymond. Above, André Belo responds to Lodovica Braida’s paper…Image

Sheila Barker considers a question from the audience…Image…and the project director delivers his paper.ImageSheila Barker, Massimo Petta, Laura Carnelos and Chiara Palazzo (l-r) attend to the subsequent discussion.ImageLaura Carnelos delivers a paper on the trade in cheap print in early modern Venice.ImageScholarly collaboration over dinner…Image…and just to prove we were in Venice.