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Spottee the Wonder Horse comes to Baltimore; or how I learned to love reading the newspaper

Baltimore Evening Post, 15 September 1807

 

Frequently in the course of my research people ask me what sort of sources I use when studying provincial print culture.  Most historians love a good primary source.  There is a secret thrill at discovering something, long buried in a dusty archive, which will change the way people understand an individual or event.  The discovery of a new set of sources can make a historian’s career and open up new fields of exploration.  Less glamorously, amazing historical knowledge can be gained by examining existing sources in new ways, and mining tiny pockets of information from scattered and diverse source material.

One of the problems of studying provincial print culture is that source material is often difficult to find.  Most of the surviving publisher’s archives come from the largest and most long-lived publishers: think John Murray, or Mathew Carey, or Longman and Co.  (Though these larger archives can contain an amazing amount of material relevant to provincial print culture.)  Very rarely do we find surviving archives for small printers and publishers in provincial towns. This is partially why so few have studied provincial print culture, and why so many are curious about my source material.

Simply put, provincial newspapers are one of my favorite, and most useful sources.  Provincial papers are multidimensional sources.  They can be used in a variety of ways and they provide information through their text, paratext, and materiality.  Newspapers carry a wealth of details about their printers and editors.  They can tell you about distribution routes, prices and subscribers as well as the political affiliations and business associations of their owners.  Readers can learn about the capital available to the printers, and the quality of their type and paper supply.  For scholars of print culture the importance of local newspapers extends beyond the information they convey on their pages.  Their simple existence tells a story about the local demand for print, making them one of the most valuable sources for the study of provincial print culture.

For scholars of any area, sitting down and reading longer runs of local papers can give unparalleled access to the life of a community.   The advertisements provide details of available goods and services.  Editorials highlight local concerns.  Even the foreign news can hint at the larger communication networks available to local readers.  Taken together these things begin to reveal the rhythm of local life.

Amidst the mundane details of everyday life, small gems can rekindle our fascination with history and keep us eagerly reading.  One of my favorite gems is the above advertisement.  Though of little direct significance, Spottee the horse reminds me of the joys of reading the newspaper, and how much it can tell us about provincial communities.

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Welcome to the world of eighteenth century print culture!

This is the first step, on what I hope will be an exciting journey of exploration for both myself and my readers.  The purpose of this blog is twofold.  The first is to create a space where I can share my knowledge and expertise about eighteenth century print culture.  My work focuses on the production, distribution and consumption of printed matter in provincial cities around the Atlantic- particularly the cities of Baltimore in America and Belfast in Ireland.

I find the study of print, to be incredibly exciting because it can open our understanding of so many other areas of interest.  Books, newspapers, and broadsides carried information to individuals at all levels of society.  By tracing print, we can trace how ideas moved both in and between communities and individuals.  By studying the ways print was produced we can get insights into the economic and social structures that governed eighteenth century life.  No matter what your area of historical interest is, print has something to offer.

In addition to examining these themes, I hope to provide updates and reviews of new related publications, conferences and websites.

The second purpose of this site is to invite others to join the conversation.  True advancements in scholarship happen through dialogue which provides us with new insights and allows us to hone our arguments.  So please join the conversation.

The site is still a bit new, but more content is being added, so watch this space and see how things develop.

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