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The public sphere and communicative practices


This session will explore the emergence of a public sphere, and the lively debate over its timing, location and extent, focusing primarily on Britain from the late 16th to the early 18th centuries. It will also explore the relationship between oral, manuscript and print culture, and the different roles each played in shaping behaviour and opinion in personal, neighbourhood and national contexts.

Seminar questions
  • How useful is the notion of 'the public sphere'?
  • Who was included, who was excluded from the public sphere?
  • In what different ways were print, manuscript and oral forms of communication used?
  • Did oral culture find itself reflected in, or displaced by, print?
  • How did 'news' circulate in early modern Europe and what constituted 'news'?

In preparation, please:

  • read the essential reading below
  • select a primary source from the list below - come prepared to explain the source to the rest of the group. Or find a source of your own, if you prefer - if so, please send it to me in good time beforehand so that I can circulate it round the group.
  • prepare a short presentation to answer one of the seminar questions above (please co-ordinate with the rest of the group and double up where necessary)
Essential reading

Peter Lake and Steve Pincus, Rethinking the Public Sphere in Early Modern England’, Journal of British Studies, xlv (2006), 270-92

Joad Raymond, ed., Cheap Print in Britain and Ireland to 1660 (2011), esp. chaps. 10-11, 20-21(book and electronic resource)

Arnold Hunt, 'Recovering Speech Acts', in The Ashgate Research Companion to Popular Culture in Early Modern England, ed. by Andrew Hadfield, Matthew Dimmock, Abigail Shinn (2014), 13-31 (available online).

Primary sources

Online resources and podcasts

Podcast: The News Revolution and the 18th Century Public Sphere- 

EBBA 20711 - UCSB English Broadside Ballad Archive

Further Reading

There was a special issue of the Journal of British Studies (vol. 56 no. 4, 2017) devoted to the public sphere in early modern Britain

Anna Bayman, 'Printing, Learning and the Unlearned' (Ch. 7) in Joad Raymond (ed.), The Oxford History of Popular Print Culture, Vol. 1: Cheap Print in Britain and Ireland to 1660 (2011) (ebook)

Bernard Capp, ‘The religious marketplace: public disputations in civil war and Interregnum England’, English Historical Review, cxxix (2013), pp47-72

Bernard Capp, When Gossips Meet: Women, Family and Neighbourhood in Early Modern England (Oxford, 2003), chaps. 1-2, 5-7

Conal Condren, ‘Public, private and the idea of the public sphere in early modern England’, Intellectual History Review, 19:1 (2009) 15-28

J. Crick and A. Walsham, eds., The Uses of Script and Print 1400-1700 (Cambridge, 2004)

R. Cust, ‘News and Politics in early Seventeenth Century England’, Past and Present (1986).

James Daybell, Early Modern Women’s Letter-writing 1450-1700 (2001)

Adam Fox, Oral and Literate Culture in England 1500-1700 (Oxford, 2000)

Adam Fox and Daniel Woolf, The Spoken Word: Oral Culture in Britain 1500-1850 (Manchester 2002)

Arnold Hunt, The Art of Hearing: English Preachers and their Audiences 1590-1640 (Cambridge, 2010)

Arnold Hunt, 'Recovering Speech Acts', in The Ashgate Research Companion to Popular Culture in Early Modern England, ed. by Andrew Hadfield, Matthew Dimmock, Abigail Shinn (2014), 13-31 (available online).

Harold Love, ‘Oral and Scribal Texts in Early Modern England’, in The Cambridge History of the Book, ed. by John Barnard and D. F. McKenzie (2002) - available online as an ebook

Noah Millstone, Manuscript circulation and the invention of politics in early Stuart England (2016) - ebook

Steve Pincus, 'Coffee Politicians Does Create: Coffee Houses and Restoration Political Culture', Journal of Modern History 67 (1995).

Joad Raymond, Pamphlets and Pamphleteering in Early Modern Britain (2003)

Joad Raymond, ‘The newspaper, public opinion and the public sphere in the seventeenth century’, in Raymond, ed., News, Newspapers and Society in Early Modern Britain (1999)

Phil Withington, 'Where was the Coffee in Early Modern England?' The Journal of Modern History 92:1 (2020), 40-75.

Some European perspectives

B. Dooley (ed.) The Dissemination of News and the Emergence of Contemporaneity in Early Modern Europe (2010)

K. Hill, ‘Anabaptism and the World of Printing in Sixteenth-Century Germany’, Past and Present 226 (2015), 79-114

Filippo De Vivo, Information and Communication in Venice: Rethinking Early Modern Politics (Oxford, 2007)

Joad Raymond et al., eds., Not Dead Things: the dissemination of popular print in Britain and Wales, Italy and the Low Countries 1500-1820 (2013)

Brian Richardson, Printing, Writers and Readers in Renaissance Italy (Cambridge 1999)

Rosa Salzberg, ‘In the Mouth of Charlatans: Street Performers and the Dissemination of Pamphlets in Renaissance Italy’, Renaissance Studies, 24:5 (2010), 638-653

J. Van Horn Melton, Cultures of Communication from Reformation to Enlightenment: Constructing Publics in the Early Modern German Lands (2002)

On books, print, script and the public sphere in early America

Hugh Amory and David D. Hall (eds), A History of the Book in America: The Colonial Book in the Atlantic World, volume 1 (2007), esp. chapter 4 and introduction.

Cressy, David, Coming over: Migration and communication between England and new England in the seventeenth century (Cambridge, 1987).

Michael Warner, The Letters of the Republic: Publication and the Public Sphere in Eighteenth-Century America (2009)

David. D. Hall, Ways of writing : the practice and politics of text-making in seventeenth-century New England (2008)

Patricia Bonomi, The Lord Cornbury Scandal: The Politics of Reputation in British America (1999).

Brown, Richard D. Knowledge is power : the diffusion of information in early America, 1700-1865 (available as an e-resource).

Armstrong, C., Writing North America in the seventeenth century : English representations in print and manuscript (2007).

H. Amory, ‘British Books Abroad: the American Colonies’, in Cambridge History of the Book in Britain, 1557-1685, vol. 4 (2002), 744-752 (available as an e-book).

David Sheilds, Civil Tongues, Polite Letters in British America (1997).

Peter Thompson, Rum, Punch and Revolution: Tavern-going and Public Life in Eighteenth Century Philadelphia (1999). e-book.