Creating the News: Printers and the Circulation of Political News in Revolutionary America

Saturday, January 9, 2010: 9:20 AM
Manchester Ballroom H (Hyatt)
Joseph M. Adelman , Johns Hopkins University, Baltimore, MD
This paper offers a fresh look at how political news and debate circulated during the American Revolutionary era by reconstructing printers’ networks and the ways in which they constructed and channeled political news.  Printers established connections with one another through kinship and business relationships, including parents and children, partners and masters, and apprentices and journeymen.  They also associated with extralegal political organizations such as the Sons of Liberty, committees of correspondence, and various congresses.  Tracing these networks reconstructs the pathways of political discourse, focusing on who transmitted news, where they sent it, and what channels it traveled, including the form of transmission— printed materials such as newspapers and almanacs, manuscript letters, or orally—and the means, including private couriers and the post office.  Their calculations were not always ideological, but often intensely practical concerns for their business and family connections.  These connections become most apparent in the pages of the newspaper, a compendium of information about the world: essays on important topics of the day; snippets of news from Europe and other colonies; local stories collected in the printing office; shipping news; and advertisements from vendors.  The printers who edited and published the newspaper sifted through a vast array of information, clipping stories from other newspapers, organizing oral reports into newsworthy paragraphs, and excerpting letters from friends and associates.  Through a series of case studies, the paper amplifies the role of the printer as a keenly engaged editor, whose mediation of the periodical’s content appeared seamless to readers.  Yet beneath the surface, the printer exercised great control over textual production, transforming the raw materials he gathered in his office into reports of public interest.  In so doing, printers set the terms of political debate, and determined how and where debating voices circulated in the British Atlantic world.