Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Andrew Pettegree's "The Invention of News"

Andrew Pettegree is professor of modern history, University of St. Andrews, and founding director of the St. Andrews Reformation Studies Institute. He now runs the Universal Short Title Catalogue, a free, searchable database of all books published before 1601. His books include The Book in the Renaissance (2010), winner of the Phyllis Goodhart Gordan Prize.

Pettegree applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, The Invention of News: How the World Came to Know About Itself, and reported the following:
Debates over press freedom always assume that governments pose the greatest threat to the free flow of information. But from a historical perspective this is often far from the case. In The Invention of News I tell the story of the growth of a commercial culture of news in the five centuries before the daily paper - from the mediaeval period to the French and American Revolutions. At first, obtaining news was both difficult and expensive. Only those in the inner circles of power - the church, government and international merchants - could expect regular access to news. Of the three, governments had by far the hardest time of it. Unlike merchants, they had no agents or correspondents settled in distant ports. Unlike the church, they had no network of volunteer messengers criss-crossing the continent on pilgrimages. So in the sixteenth century Europe's princes began to establish their own network of ambassadors to observe and report. Page 99 turns the spotlight on these first diplomats, and the difficult tasks they faced to gather news often in hostile territory. This was an arduous posting. Ambassadors were often lonely, miserable and shunned by their hosts. It was hard to tell news from deliberate misinformation. Their dispatches were routinely opened, crude attempts at code easily broken. In the end diplomacy probably contributed relatively little to the rich, multi-media world of news described in this book: correspondence and conversation, gossip and public proclamation, pamphlets and song. Only in the seventeenth century did newspapers make their debut, and they too struggled to find a place in this diverse news environment. It would be two hundred years before the daily newspaper became the dominant news medium. We think of today's mix of print, broadcast and digital as a modern phenomenon. But The Invention of News tells the story of a news environment every bit as rich, varied and lively as our own.
Learn more about The Invention of News at the Yale University Press website.

The Page 99 Test: The Book in the Renaissance.

--Marshal Zeringue