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The Invention of News

The Invention of News: How the World Came to Know About Itself

Copyright Date: 2014
Published by: Yale University Press
Pages: 456
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  • Book Info
    The Invention of News
    Book Description:

    Long before the invention of printing, let alone the availability of a daily newspaper, people desired to be informed. In the pre-industrial era news was gathered and shared through conversation and gossip, civic ceremony, celebration, sermons, and proclamations. The age of print brought pamphlets, edicts, ballads, journals, and the first news-sheets, expanding the news community from local to worldwide. This groundbreaking book tracks the history of news in ten countries over the course of four centuries. It evaluates the unexpected variety of ways in which information was transmitted in the premodern world as well as the impact of expanding news media on contemporary events and the lives of an ever-more-informed public.Andrew Pettegree investigates who controlled the news and who reported it; the use of news as a tool of political protest and religious reform; issues of privacy and titillation; the persistent need for news to be current and journalists trustworthy; and people's changed sense of themselves as they experienced newly opened windows on the world. By the close of the eighteenth century, Pettegree concludes, transmission of news had become so efficient and widespread that European citizens-now aware of wars, revolutions, crime, disasters, scandals, and other events-were poised to emerge as actors in the great events unfolding around them.

    eISBN: 978-0-300-20622-7
    Subjects: History, Language & Literature, Sociology

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-v)
  3. List of Maps
    (pp. vi-vi)
  4. Introduction: All the News that’s Fit to Tell
    (pp. 1-14)

    In 1704 the English writer Daniel Defoe embarked on the publication of a political journal: theWeekly Review of the Affairs of France.¹ This was not yet the Defoe made famous by his great novelRobinson Crusoe; he would discover his vocation as a novelist only late in life. Up to this point Defoe had tried his hand at many things, and often failed. TheReview(as it soon became) was the latest of many attempts to find a way to make money. This time it worked. Within a few months Defoe’s publication had found its new form, as a...


    • CHAPTER 1 Power and Imagination
      (pp. 17-39)

      Maximilian I, Holy Roman Emperor between 1493 and 1519, was not the most astute of rulers. Despite a whirlwind of travel, diplomacy and optimistic dynastic alliances, he never succeeded in asserting control over his large and dispersed dominions. Even before his election as emperor, he had so inflamed opinion in the Low Countries that in 1488 the people of Bruges held him hostage for seven months until he capitulated to their demands. Always chronically in debt, on one other occasion he was forced to flee his German creditors by slipping out of Augsburg under cover of darkness. This was neither...

    • CHAPTER 2 The Wheels of Commerce
      (pp. 40-57)

      When one considers the problems and expense that Europe’s crowned heads experienced in keeping abreast of events – and how often they failed to do so – the smooth, efficient progress of merchant correspondence provides a vivid contrast. Between 1200 and 1500 the economy of Europe was transformed by the rise of the great merchant companies, trading between Italy and northern Europe, Germany, the Mediterranean and the Levant. The appetite for eastern luxuries, spices and costly fabrics, exchanged for northern wool and cloth, created a large and expansive marketplace, full of opportunity for the bold and ingenious trader. The hazards were also...

    • CHAPTER 3 The First News Prints
      (pp. 58-75)

      In the new commercial world of fourteenth- and fifteenth-century Europe, wealth brought many privileges. Men of power had long enjoyed the luxury of space: land on which to hunt; large and eye-catching villas on the main streets of Europe’s richest cities. Now, thanks to international commerce, they were able to fill these houses with beautiful things. Their homes became the visible symbols of their wealth. They built gardens, wore fine clothes, and filled their rooms with exquisite objects: tapestries, sculpture, pictures and curiosities, the horn of a unicorn or precious stones. They also began to collect books. For the development...

    • CHAPTER 4 State and Nation
      (pp. 76-95)

      The rulers of medieval Europe devoted much time and effort to making their wishes known to their subjects and fellow citizens. As we have seen, this became an important part of the information culture of the age. Decrees and ordinances were made known by public reading; trusted lieutenants were informed by letter. With the invention of printing much thought was naturally given to how the new technology could be applied to simplify this task. In the compact city states of Italy, such a use of print may have seemed superfluous. Most citizens could be made aware of changes in law...

    • CHAPTER 5 Confidential Correspondents
      (pp. 96-116)

      By the middle of the sixteenth century the development of printing had had a profound impact on the availability of news throughout Europe. Those who wished to keep abreast of current events now had access to a profusion of printed pamphlets and broadsheets. These news prints were among the cheapest books for sale, many retailing for a penny or its equivalent. For those privileged groups who had been the principal consumers of news in medieval Europe these developments were in many ways unsettling. In the old world, news had been essentially a private and intimate transaction, exchanged between trusted individuals....

    • CHAPTER 6 Marketplace and Tavern
      (pp. 117-138)

      The manuscript news agencies were the tools of the privileged. The expense of commercial manuscript news was in this sense no disadvantage: rather, expense offered the reassurance of authority that men of power looked for in a well-informed source. Those without access to these services could still learn much from printed news pamphlets, a more promiscuous and boisterous medium, and one that now played an increasingly confident role in sharing news of current events with a wide reading public. But there was a third strand to early modern news culture that should not be ignored: news passed by word of...

    • CHAPTER 7 Triumph and Tragedy
      (pp. 139-164)

      On 19 October 1571 a single ship eased cautiously into the harbour at venice. Earlier in the autumn a combined Christian fleet had sailed eastward to confront the galleys of the Ottoman Empire. Nothing had been heard since. Those who now saw theAngelo Gabrielewere at first appalled. The men on board appeared to be wearing Turkish garb, so the venetians feared the worst. It was only when they realised these were clothes captured from the defeated Turkish fleet that they began to feel hope. The ship’s captain then stepped ashore and confirmed the glad tidings: the Christian fleet...


    • CHAPTER 8 Speeding the Posts
      (pp. 167-181)

      It used to be said that the three centuries before 1800 saw no fundamental change in communication infrastructure, certainly nothing that could be described as a technological revolution. These were the times when sailors faced and overcame the challenge of ocean voyages, itself no mean feat and one based on small, incremental changes in the design of ships, sails and navigational instruments. Land transportation could register no equivalent landmarks. Europe’s roads remained difficult and dangerous: there is some evidence that they may actually have deteriorated since the High Middle Ages. Travellers remained as before dependent on horses, carts and haulage...

    • CHAPTER 9 The First Newspapers
      (pp. 182-207)

      In the year 1605 a young book dealer named Johann Carolus appeared before the Strasbourg city council with an unusual request. Besides his bookselling Carolus had recently also developed a lucrative sideline, producing a weekly manuscript newsletter. By this date, as we have seen, the manuscript newsletter had become the cornerstone of the information market for Europe’s elites. From its early days in Rome and venice, the production of manuscript newsletters had now spread across Germany, and from Augsburg and Nuremberg to Brussels and Antwerp in the Low Countries. Strasbourg, situated close to the crucial Rhine crossing serving the imperial...

    • CHAPTER 10 War and Rebellion
      (pp. 208-229)

      In 1618 the edgy, brooding truce that had kept the peace in central Europe for over seventy years stood on the brink of collapse. A resurgent Catholic activism had caused Protestants to fear that the liberties guaranteed by the Peace of Augsburg in 1555 would not be long maintained. The prospect that the Emperor Matthias would be succeeded by his much more militant cousin Ferdinand stirred anxiety in the Habsburg lands, particularly in Bohemia where Protestants were a long-standing majority. The crisis came to a head in Prague on 23 May 1618, when Protestant deputies from the Czech Estates confronted...

    • CHAPTER 11 Storm in a Coffee Cup
      (pp. 230-248)

      So we return to Daniel Defoe, whom we left many pages ago scribbling away at hisReview. After many failed ventures and several public humiliations – including bankruptcy and a spell in the pillory – this was make or break for Defoe. So he wrote and wrote, for anyone who would pay; and in the febrile period between the deposition of James II in 1688 and the contested Hanoverian succession there were plenty who would. In 1707 he spent a whole year in Scotland seeking to persuade the Scots that the abolition of their Parliament would bring nothing but good.¹ Journalism and...


    • CHAPTER 12 The Search for Truth
      (pp. 251-268)

      On 4 June 1561 the steeple of St Paul’s Cathedral, the largest church in England, was struck by lightning. It caught fire, and collapsed into the roof of the church: this, too, could not be saved. Such a calamitous event at the heart of the metropolis stirred even the relatively conservative English print industry into action; since the stalls of many booksellers were located in St Paul’s yard, they would probably have been among the horrified eyewitnesses. Within days an atmospheric pamphlet account was circulating on the streets, recounting the heroic efforts of London citizens, led by the Lord Mayor,...

    • CHAPTER 13 The Age of the Journal
      (pp. 269-288)

      The debate about truth represented a crisis of authority for the reporting of news. With the development of a more adversarial political culture, news reporting seemed in some ways to have regressed. The search for facts came to be smothered in a fog of opinion, and the abuse and manipulation that went with factious politics. Politics had polluted the news. This, of course, is a problem that would never truly be resolved. The need for news prints also to be agents of persuasion would continue to challenge the critical faculties of readers into the modern age. But the first hints...

    • CHAPTER 14 In Business
      (pp. 289-307)

      In June 1637 Hans Baert found himself in a difficult spot. Baert was a wealthy Haarlem merchant, and in recent times he had involved himself heavily in the trade in tulips.¹ For a time he had prospered. The price of the bulbs had increased steadily, and more recently at a phenomenal rate. But in February of this year the bottom had dropped out of the market; and none of those who had bought from Baert at the higher prices would pay their debt.

      The tulip trade was, it must be admitted, a very unusual form of commodity trading. These most...

    • CHAPTER 15 From Our Own Correspondent
      (pp. 308-325)

      There can be no doubt that by the eighteenth century the reading public’s appetite for news had generated a considerable industry. In Germany, the Low Countries and particularly England newspapers had captured the public imagination. In London a multiplicity of competing papers fuelled the poisonous politics of the age, and posed those in power unfamiliar problems of news management. But who exactly lay behind this vast increase in the weekly and sometimes daily output of news? Who provided the necessary continuous stream of copy?

      It will not have escaped the attention of readers that so far we have met remarkably...

    • CHAPTER 16 Cry Freedom
      (pp. 326-345)

      The mid-eighteenth century had been a period of consolidation for the European press. The development of the weekly journal and monthly magazines extended the range of comment and reflection on political topics. The number of newspapers expanded gradually, as new titles were established and existing papers failed; markets were sustained by a steadily rising tide of new readers. Publishers could earn a good living from providing subscribers with a weekly or thrice-weekly diet of news. But this was not a period of enormous innovation in the news market. In Britain, Parliamentary politics (now settled into an established pattern of annual...

    • CHAPTER 17 How Samuel Sewall Read his Paper
      (pp. 346-361)

      On 24 April 1704 Samuel Sewall, citizen of Boston, travelled across the Charles River to Cambridge, carrying with him the first issue of John Campbell’s weekly news-sheet,The Boston News-Letter. Sewall was on his way to present a copy to his friend Reverend Samuel Willard, Vice-President of Harvard College; Willard was delighted to receive it, and promptly shared it with the other Fellows. Samuel Sewall was at this point one of the leading citizens of the largest city in the American colonies. For the best part of fifty years he was at the heart of its commerce and government, named...

  8. Conclusion
    (pp. 362-372)

    It is easy to see why, for those engulfed by the tumultuous events at the end of the eighteenth century, it seemed that a decisive moment had been reached in the history of communication. The newspaper had come of age. A French revolutionary journalist, Pierre-Louis Roederer, set out the case with admirable clarity in an essay ‘on the different means of communication of ideas among men in society’. Newspapers, he argued,

    contained only the latest and most pressing news; they had more readers than books or other forms of printed matter that customers had to seek out in bookstores, because,...

  9. Notes
    (pp. 373-407)
  10. Bibliography
    (pp. 408-428)
  11. Index
    (pp. 429-442)
  12. Illustration Acknowledgements
    (pp. 443-443)
  13. Acknowledgements
    (pp. 444-446)
    Andrew Pettegree