New Media in Early Modern Britain, 1476-1791

History 103B.004

Spring 2018
3104 Dwinelle
Day & Time: 
F 10-12

How should we, as viewers of the world through digital screens, make sense of the legacies of a communications revolution that was made of ink and paper? Before the arrival of Britain’s first printing press in 1476, books were rare and most knowledge depended on the ephemeral vehicles of speech and memory. By the eighteenth century, we find a society that rustled with books, newspapers, financial receipts, and private letters. Mass communication was a reality and the written word accumulated in libraries, coffeehouses, and private homes. In this class, we will consider the relationship between new media and the structural transformation of British society, from medieval to modern. We will ask how historians approach the study of a medium as an agent of change and how they discern dynamic new landscapes of discourse. How did the increasingly broad and dynamic distribution of text affect the course of the Renaissance, religious reformation, political revolution, and the foundations of modern science? How did early modern people react to these changes? We will also consider the enduring significance of questions that the people who lived through these changes asked themselves as they adapted to new communication technologies: How do we deal with information overload? How should we react to fake news? What does it mean for speech to be free?