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.


CfP: News Networks International Symposium, July 26-28 2013

News Networks in Early Modern Europe is very pleased to announce an international, interdisciplinary conference, to take place at Queen Mary, University of London in July 2013 on the theme ‘News and the Shape of Europe, 1500-1750’.  The call for papers is available to download below:

For more information about what should be a very exciting event, or to submit a paper proposal, please write to; the deadline for paper proposals will be the 28th of February 2013. Please tweet, post the cfp on facebook, and circulate it to wherever you think it will be of interest! We look forward to seeing lots of you at the event.

St Valentine, Patron of copulation

On 14 February 1646 — towards the end of the civil war — the London weekly newspaper The True Informer published the following editorial:

Episcopacy being abolished,* I see no reason why this day in which this book is extant, should be honoured in the commemoration of Bishop Valentine, or by what anomalous power of the Church of Rome, he should be made the Patron of copulation; there is no doubt but he was a Bishop, & I am afraid a very wanton one, for otherwise why should that lusty heat which in this pregnant season, make proud the blood, receive from his not only an allowance, but protection: Surely if his condition were correspondent to his title, everie piece of paper which the petulant youth weare this day in their hats, and every little scroule which the bashfull and conscious Virgins keep more concealed under their cuffe, are all but libells against his Gravity, whatsoever Epitome that custome heretofore have had I do believe the practice idle and unlawfull, yet peradventure as the Swedes will allow none to sell ale, or to keep such houses of hospitality, but unlesse such who serve their Ministers, because that by their neglect of sordid gaine, and the civility of their conversation they should give good examples unto others; so Antiquitie of Superstition, made this Bishop provident of this day, that in the remembrance of the excellence of his continence, and the severity of his life he might correct the fires and distempers of youth, which otherwise would be too unbridled and licentious; but of this enough …

[* the editor was jumping the gun: in fact the English Parliament would not formally abolish the episcopal system of church government by bishops until October 1646]

This facetious commentary on the role of the “Patron of copulation” (a nice phrase) explores a series of ironies. We aren’t really meant to believe that there is much chance of a bishop setting a good example to the youth, so the suggestion that St Valentines’ is a day of licensed licentiousness, which takes the edge off unbridled libidinousness, comments facetiously both on romantic conduct on that day and on the morality of Bishops. I wonder if there’s anything as rich in this morning’s papers.

It is an interesting and instructive example of the use of the newspaper for social commentary in the first half of the seventeenth century and of the simultaneous use of the newspaper for entertainment and humour.

The European newspaper?

What is a newspaper? What is Europe?

These are thorny, and potentially interlinked questions. We know what a newspaper is in its modern form — though it can be surprisingly hard to articulate the implicit knowledge that shapes our expectations of newspapers and instructs us in how to read them — but the nature and role of printed news in earlier societies is harder to establish.

Harder, because the definitional criteria we use do not always mesh perfectly with the historical facts, or the stories that we tell about early printed news. We might propose, for example, that a transhistorical definition of the newspaper would rely on at least the seven following criteria:
1. regular periodicity (i.e. exact frequency of publication, whether that is daily or weekly)
2. seriality (several issues appearing separately, each intended to follow on from the previous)
3. numbering — seriality has to be indicated typographically to assist in consecutive purchasing and collecting. This also implies:
4. continuity in physical appearance and title
5. a heterogeneity of news, from different sources (perhaps including both foreign and home news)
6. topicality of content
7. publication (i.e. making available to the public, not exclusively by printing).
These criteria for form and content represent one possible, minimal definition of the newspaper. An eighth, possible criterion, though it may be no more than a description of a tendency, is that the newspaper must contain some admixture of three kinds of content: news, advertising, and editorial. These criteria would provide a reasonable basis for a rigorous account of the history of early printed news.

But these bare formal criteria, though (fairly) uncontentious in themselves, begin to come under strain when tested against the sheer breadth and multiplicity of contexts in which early modern newsprint emerged and upon which it acted. The history of news, written by practitioners in various European countries, wrestles with such criteria, and bends them to tell a better story, a story that then begins to twist the evidence in favour of clear milestones. Who wants a history full of qualification and muddy waters?

Historians of news are confronted by problems of scale as well as definition. Thomas Carlyle wrote (in the 1840s) of the superabundance of pamphlets and news and printed evidence that the C17th bequeathed to research libraries: “Dreariest continent of shot-rubbish the eye ever saw. Confusion piled on confusion to your utmost horizon’s edge: obscure, in lurid twilight as the shadow of Death; trackless, without index, without finger-post, or mark of any human foregoer;—where your human footstep, if you are still human, echoes bodeful through the gaunt solitude, peopled only by somnambulent Pedants, Dilettants, and doleful creatures, by Phantasms, errors, inconceivabilities, by Nightmares, pasteboard Norroys, griffins, wiverns, and chimeras dire! There, all vanquished, overwhelmed under such waste lumber-mountains, the wreck and dead ashes of some six unbelieving generations, does the Age of Cromwell and his Puritans lie hidden from us.”

In order to fit with modern historiographical standards the history of news must be written with a keen eye to evidence, not only the evidence of surviving printed items, but printing house practices, distribution methods, the commercial rationale, manuscript news, oral traditions, reading and listening practices, etc. etc. Because printed news touches upon so many elements of society and everyday life, because its history is so interconnected with other histories, it needs to be reconstructed minutely and meticulously. And yet printed news, as it is understood today, plays an important role in the emergence of nations, of the public sphere and public opinion, of national identity, of democracy; and so it needs to be written from a geographically and socially broad perspective, and over the longue durée. Newspaper historians must be both foxes and hedgehogs, in the dichotomy of Archilochus, knowing both many things and one big thing.

The problem is exacerbated from a European perspective. Between 1500 and 1700, European countries developed new means of producing and distributing news. These news media depended on communication that crossed linguistic, religious and geopolitical boundaries. Emergent forms of news were crucial to the modernization of European states, the appearance of modern politics, the evolution of discrete identities, and the development of national consciousness. Histories of news have almost exclusively been written from national perspectives; yet the emergence of news media took place across Europe, and in every nation the news media was closely intertwined with pan-European channels of communication, international trade networks, and war. Newspaper historians must recognize the inter- and transnational nature of newspapers; yet to do so, and to do so with the necessary scholarly intensity and evidentiary integrity lies beyond the capacity of an individual.

The Early Modern News Networks project — based at the University of East Anglia, but involving scholars from across Europe, and funded by the generous support of the Leverhulme Trust — seeks to resolve some of these issues of history and method. We seek to explore ways of writing this history collectively and collaboratively. The network of scholars will examine the movement of news across Europe, the forms it took, the routes it followed and the speed and accuracy of transmission, and how it was transformed as it moved between cultures, languages and religions, and by doing so pursue methods for understanding news and news networks in a pan-European context. In this blog we will look at some of the issues, present some of our findings, discuss topical issues through the perspective of the past, ask questions about the nature of news and of Europe, and hope to stimulate discussion of the role of news in early-modern Europe. Let us know if there is anything you would like to see.

It is a pressing project. Just as Europe made news networks, news networks made Europe. Europe was an idea, shaped by war, trade, languages, religions, and by communication. Today Europe — in the distinctive shape and nature that it has assumed since the Second World War — is imperilled. The increasingly formalised economic and legal ties that began with the creation of the European Economic Community and resulted in monetary union are threatened by the actions of a number of under-regulated financial institutions and individuals. Yet beyond these economic and legal frameworks, Europe has an identity that lies in the communicative networks that began centuries before Immanuel Kant’s Perpetual Peace (1795) and the League of Nations (1920): one answer to the question ‘What is Europe?’ lies in the history of news.


Early Modern News Networks

Welcome to Early Modern News Networks, a blog featuring events, updates and matters of interest arising from the Leverhulme-funded project “News Networks in Early Modern Europe”.  The project brings together its own network of five leading scholars of early modern news culture from across the continent to establish new approaches to the study of news networks, their formation and their functioning, that will lay the foundations for a methodologically coherent European history of news and newspapers.

Participating in the network are:

Professor Joad Raymond (University of East Anglia)

Dr Paul Arblaster (Zuyd University, Maastricht)

Dr André Belo (Université Rennes 2)

Professor Carmen Espejo (Universidad de Sevilla)

Professor Mario Infelise (Universita Ca’ Foscari Venezia)

The project will also feature contributions from guests and associates at its various meetings over the next two years; the network will hold a series of workshops in five European cities, each an important centre of early modern news production and distribution, culminating in an open symposium in London in the summer of 2013.  The first meeting of the group takes place in Antwerp in November, and the project website is currently under construction.  Watch this space for news and announcements!