Newspapers in the Enlightenment

The first newspapers were published shortly after the (re-) invention of the moveable letter printing press by Johannes Gutenberg in around 1450. It began with (single issue) pamphlets, then biweekly or weekly intelligence gazettes emerged, of which there were quite a number in the 17th century. In those days, the editors of newspapers had to deal with censorship. In England, PRESS FREEDOM was introduced in 1694, just after the Glorious Revolution. Sweden introduced Press Freedom in 1766 - both England and Sweden constitutional monarchies at that time.
In countries ruled absolute, press censorship still applied. Yet in France censorship failed in the prevention of Enlightenment philosophy, which was highly critical og church, society and state; the French newspapers similarly became more political, more critical. When reforms of enlightened absolute rulers in central and eastern Europe accelerated in the 1780es, they provided a similar environment, censorship only partially being capable to fulfil her task, newspapers becoming fora for (limited) political discussion.
A major reform implemented by Enlightened Absolutism dealt with the area of education. It resulted in an increased literacy rate; newspapers thus found an extended potential market of readers. People with a modern education also were likely to think more rationally, compared with previous generations, and raised expectations in scientific and socio-political progress.
Hauser p.555ff refers, for England following the Glorious Revolution, to a new reading public, which mainly consists of well-to-do burghers regularly reading and purchasing books and magazines and providing a sufficient economic foundation for authors and magazine publishers to make a living. The socio-economic situation in the Dutch Republic was similar; newspapers also thrived in France, Germany and Italy.

Newspapers not only reported about factual developments (such as events in ongoing wars), but reported on political debates (in the English Parliament), but contained editorials and letters to the editor, the latter often anonymized. In the late 19th century, Freemasons made extensive use of this way to publicize their opinion.

In 1789, Paris hat 4 newspapers; within the first two years of the French Revolution, the number would soar to 27 (Hayes).

The Enlightenment and Ineffective Leadership. A Causal Factor of the Reign of Terror, by Charles Hayes
Journalism 1760-1960, from Spartacus Schoolnet (on Britih journalism)
DOCUMENTS Online Edition of the Berlinische Monatsschrift 1783-1811, from Universität Bielefeld (Berlin Monthly; scans, German text in Gothic font)
Original Historical Texts (Newspapers 1588-1666), posted by David Cornfield
Historische Kranten 1656-1946 (Historic Newspapers), links posted by Rob Kuijsten; Dutch language site
REFERENCE Arnold Hauser, Sozialgeschichte der Kunst und Literatur (Social History of the Arts and Literature), München : Beck (1953) 1983

This page is part of World History at KMLA
First posted on September 12th 2003, last revised on November 14th 2004

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