The Third International Conference on Historical News Discourse

By Brownlees, Nicholas | European English Messenger, Winter 2012 | Go to article overview

The Third International Conference on Historical News Discourse


Brownlees, Nicholas, European English Messenger


The third International Conference on Historical News Discourse (CHINED III), Rostock, 18-19 May 2012.

The third International Conference on Historical News Discourse (CHINED III) was held at Rostock University from 18-19 May 2012. The university, which is the oldest in the Baltic region, generously provided excellent conference facilities close to the centre of this charming Hanseatic port. From this vantage point, the participants turned their attention to varying news genres and discourses from the 17th century up until the present day. Whilst the majority of the presentations focused on English news texts, the conference organisers, Birte Bos and Lucia Kornexl, also rightly decided to welcome news discourse research relating to other European cultures and languages. This decision not only reflects the marked inter-European dimension in news dissemination in early modern Europe but also the globalization of news in modern day society.

The range of news-based topics presented at the conference illustrates the multiple guises in which news has been communicated over time. For much of the early modern period written news was communicated through letters, both in the form of personal and impersonal correspondence. The latter can be referred to as newsletters, that is, the letters were frequently written up by professional news gatherers and correspondents who sent out periodical manuscript updates of both domestic and foreign news to their paid-up clients. However, personal correspondence also carried news though this frequently centred on family and local matters. This aspect of personal epistolary news in the early modern period was examined by Gabriella Del Lungo Camiciotti (University of Florence). In a paper entitled "Communicating news in a gentry network: the personal correspondence of Jane Lady Cornwallis Bacon, 1613-1644", Del Lungo Camiciotti investigated the private correspondence of Lady Cornwallis Bacon in order to assess the evolution of ways of communicating news within a gentry network and the discursive identity of a gentlewoman. The investigation of Lady Jane's correspondence seems to show that in the early modern period the function of exchanging news, including public news in personal letters, seems increasingly to serve the function of creating an epistolary world where participants express proximity by exchanging news and gossip relevant to the correspondents' world.

However, apart from the communication of personal and impersonal epistolary news, the first half of the seventeenth-century witnessed the beginning of periodical print news in England. The first small folio, single-sheet translations of German and Dutch newssheets were sent to England in 1620, and with them periodical print news in the form of constant if not periodically regular news publications began. At first these newssheets were little more than literal translations of their European counterparts, but when London publishers decided to write up their own news publications in 1622 they immediately had to face the question confronting all news publishers and professional news writers: what language and textual framework should be adopted to help persuade readers that the money they are spending is a good investment. It is this question which Nicholas Brownlees (University of Florence) examined in his paper, " 'We have in some former bookes told you': the significance of metatext in early modern news". Through an analysis of terminology news writers themselves adopted in relation to their own publications during the first decades of periodical news it is possible to gain insights into not just how seventeenth-century English news discourse evolved but why.

This same historical period was also the focus of the paper presented by Elisabetta Cecconi (University of Florence). However, rather than concentrating on seventeenth-century periodical news publications and formats, she also took into consideration broadsides and occasional news pamphlets in her examination of seventeenth-century crime news. …

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