Reading Newspapers: Press and Public in Eighteenth-Century Britain and America

Article excerpt

Heyd, Uriel. Reading Newspapers: Press and Public in Eighteenth-Century Britain and America. Oxford, United Kingdom: Voltaire Foundation, Oxford University, 2012. $105.

Historians have long noted that newspapers became a regular part of society in the English-speaking world in the eighteenth century, but they have not fully studied public perceptions of the press. In Reading Newspapers, Uriel Heyd attempts to correct this oversight through a study of previously unexplored sources such as newspaper indexes, the use of the press in plays, and auction catalogues. He concludes that newspapers in Great Britain and America had a broad readership that resulted in enormous influences from their content. The major themes of the study are the effect of newspapers on individual readers, society in general, and the political world on both sides of the Atlantic. Thus, the newspapers became mirrors of the society in which they were produced and help show the differences that developed in Britain and America.

Heyd begins his study with a discussion ?? the role of the press. Beyond the obvious role of providing information, Heyd finds that both readers and printers realized that the regular productions of newspapers provided entertainment as well as useful news and information. For most people, these goals became the primary reasons that newspapers needed to continue to exist. The media served the important purpose of instructing readers on a variety of topics. Americans particularly saw the importance of newspapers in bringing the people of their new country into a unified entity. Newspaper reading became a group activity in taverns and other public spaces as one person would read it aloud for all to hear. Newspapers helped create a culture in which news became a commodity that everyone assumed they needed to have.

Heyd uses a variety of previously littleused sources for his study. In looking at the English press, he uses two indexes of the London Chronicle and Lloyds Evening Post to determine what the producers perceived as important in the pages of their newspapers. …