Book Reviews -- the Public Prints: The Newspaper in Anglo-American Culture, 1665-1740 by Charles E. Clark
Smith, Jeffery A., Journalism History
Clark, Charles E. The Public Prints: The Newspaper in Anglo-American Culture, 1665-1740. New York: Oxford University Press, 1994. 318 pp. $49.95.
To the left of the nameplate of William Bradford's New York Gazette was a provincial coat of arms and to the right were two figures Isaiah Thomas described as "a postman, on an animal somewhat resembling a horse." More than two-and-a-half centuries later, in an age of computer graphics and satellite transmissions, colonial newspapers seem quaint and curious and remain poorly understood.
Citing Jurgen Habermas and James Carey at the outset, Charles E. Clark is interested in how America's earliest news producers and consumers ritually "affirmed and celebrated their common identity as provincial Britons" with content that was "intelligible and potentially enjoyable to almost anyone who could read." To Clark, however, American newspapers before 1740 are documents reflecting a "world view, by and large, of the upper class, cultivated, ethnocentric, and fiercely patriotic English male."
In Clark's view, Anglo-American public prints are preoccupied with dutifully chronicling European events, republishing official proclamations, and reporting the movements, ceremonies, and deaths of the ruling class. The point of all this, he says, was not so much to convey news as to provide a means of ritual participation in public life.
Clark sees a major transformation of colonial newspapers occurring in 1739 with the outbreak of the War of Jenkin's Ear with Spain and the first American tour of evangelist George Whitefield. The end of a quarter century of peace and the beginning of the Great Awakening stimulated newspapers "to focus their editorial content increasingly on news and opinion, much of it locally generated." The demarcation is stark. …