17th-century print culture

If you are reading this within a week of 26th January 2006 you still have a chance to download the MP3 of the latest edition of In Our Time. Don’t worry if you are too late because you can find it in the programme archives and listen online. This week host Melvyn Bragg discussed seventeenth-century print culture with Joad Raymond, Kevin Sharpe and Ann Hughes. 

You might wonder why you should care about seventeenth-century print culture more than that of the sixteenth or eighteenth centuries. Well, in Britain the seventeenth century was very important because it witnessed an enormous expansion of printed material. Just two elements of this were the development of the newspaper and the beginnings and rapid growth of the London pictorial print trade.

After listening to the programme you may want to do some further reading. The programme website suggests books by Raymond, Sharpe, Hughes and others, but I’d like to recommend a few more.

The discussion raised the point that news and other information was transmitted in both oral and printed form. For example ballads were printed on paper and also sung out loud. Other people then learnt the ballads by ear and so the songs’ messages spread. Ballads could be about lovers, murders, folk heroes, emigration and other day to day topics. However many were also political and were sung in support of partisan figures such as the Duke of Monmouth, who as the illegitimate son of Charles II (1660-1685) was seen by some as a possible heir to the throne. Adam Fox’s Oral and Literate Culture in England, 1500-1700 is one of the best books around dealing with the transmission of information in written and oral form.

If you want to learn more about ballads you could refer to the work of recent Warwick university PhD graduate Angela McShane Jones. Her 2004 thesis is called ‘Rime and Reason’: the political world of the English broadside ballad, 1640-1689. A further list of her publications can be found here.  

I’m surprised that just one Joad Raymond book appears on the In Our Time reading list. In 1999 he edited News, newspapers and society in Early Modern Britain. He has also written The invention of the English newspaper: English newsbooks, 1641-1649. James Sutherland’s The Restoration newspaper and its development is also an indispensable guide

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5 Responses to “17th-century print culture”

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    I was actually wondering whether I should listen or skip it (I am lagging terribly behind on *all* podcasts I subscribed) but after your post I think I’ll give it a try.

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