Saturday, October 22, 2022

Jordan E. Taylor's "Misinformation Nation"

Jordan E. Taylor is an editor and historian of American media and politics.

He applied the Page 99 Test to his new book, Misinformation Nation: Foreign News and the Politics of Truth in Revolutionary America, and reported the following:
Page 99 of Misinformation Nation: Foreign News and the Politics of Truth in Revolutionary America describes how a growing demand for news, created by the Age of Revolutions, fueled the global growth of the periodical press in North America in the late eighteenth century. The way that historians of the early United States often think about this story is that as American politics finally started to get interesting in the 1780s and 1790s, with the birth of a republican government, the number of newspapers in the country grew. But this page makes the point that if you look at the growth of newspapers in the U.S. alongside the growth of the press in Canada, the British empire, and the French empire, this expansion of the periodical press starts to look like more of a global phenomenon than a national one. The result was that American newspapers (which were better positioned to organize and interpret the tidal wave of detailed news produced by the Age of Revolutions) drew far more information from a globally expansive mix of sources than ever before.

Someone opening Misinformation Nation to page 99 would get a fair idea of what the book is about. The relationship between global revolutionary politics and newspapers, which this page focuses on, is certainly at the core of my study. Moreover, this page makes a point that’s crucial to my book’s subsequent chapters: while colonial British Americans mostly got their news from Britain before the American Revolution, after U.S. independence Americans gathered news from all over the world. However, this page doesn’t get at why this is important. As subsequent chapters show, the fact that Americans started gathering news from around the world meant that their experience of the world started to become more plural and fragmented. It became possible to gather news that suited and reinforced your existing political and ideological commitments, creating something like the information polarization of contemporary America.

Opening my book to page 99 for this test, I was slightly annoyed to realize that it was contained in chapter four. Don’t get me wrong: chapter four is important. The book wouldn’t make sense without chapter four, as it describes the impact of American independence on the flow of information into North America. But chapter four was the hardest to write in an interesting way, because it is so heavily focused on explaining how information flowed, rather than why that mattered. Page 99 and the pages surrounding it provide a pivot point in the book. This chapter wraps up the first half and provides essential context for what comes next, but it doesn’t focus on the historical claims that really excited me as I was writing. Writing this chapter felt like setting chess pieces up for an attack. But in a work of history that’s 224 pages long, some of those pages are necessary. Like the Age of Revolutions I was writing about on page 99, not every moment can be about the capture of the king.
Visit Jordan E. Taylor's website.

--Marshal Zeringue