The birth of the newspaper: understanding new media
Submitting InstitutionUniversity College London
Unit of AssessmentHistory
Summary Impact TypeCultural
Research Subject Area(s)
Studies In Creative Arts and Writing: Journalism and Professional Writing
Summary of the impact
The role of mass media in politics and society has in recent years been a
subject of intense public debate, as well as lengthy legal investigation
and repeated political intervention. Dr Jason Peacey's research on the
earliest modern printed mass media and their relation to government and
state at the time of the English Civil War illuminates the origins of the
current situation, and has made a notable impact on public understanding,
of the historical roots of the media's role in mediating between states
and citizens in both the US and UK. This occurred through a major museum
exhibition at the Folger Shakespeare Library in Washington, DC, as well as
a range of public engagement and media activities in Britain.
Across a range of scholarly articles (including [a] and [b]) Dr Jason
Peacey (Lecturer at UCL since 2006; Senior Lecturer since 2009) has
explored the history of print culture and developed new ways of
interpreting the development of political pamphleteering, the rise of a
news industry, and the commercialisation and professionalisation of
journalism in the seventeenth century. This has involved close scrutiny of
the authors, printers and patrons of mass-produced pamphlets and
newspapers, and of the ways in which politicians controlled and exploited
these new media for their own purposes, and has enabled him to show that
mechanisms of propaganda and censorship became an integral part of
politics and government. This innovative methodology has made it possible
to demonstrate not just that attempts to exert control over the media had
the effect of politicising the public sphere but also that this sometimes
undermined traditional attitudes towards political secrecy, paradoxically
helping to enhance political accountability. As such, Peacey has been able
to illuminate the origins and nature of the precarious relation between
the power of the state and the power of the media that continues to be a
source of much contention in the modern world.
Central to this research has been an enhanced understanding of England's
fledgling newspaper industry (including [c]), which rapidly became a focal
point for political attention and for novel political techniques and
strategies relating to `news management'. This has revealed the complex
competing forces which influenced the new medium, from commercial
imperatives to factional tensions, and showed that these ultimately led to
the integration of newspapers into a governmental system which combined
spies and agents, a civil service secretariat and salaried journalists.
But it also provided some of the clearest evidence that official responses
to the print revolution (rather than just investigative journalism) also
had the effect of enhancing political transparency.
Peacey's research has gone on to analyse the impact of and response to
the new print media beyond the level of the metropolitan political elite,
which had been central to his earlier work. In a number of recent studies,
culminating in his book Print and Public Politics in the English
Revolution [f], he has investigated the audience for and reception
of print, popular awareness of national politics, and the extent of
participation in national political life. Peacey has assessed how various
new print media were consumed and perceived across distinct social groups
and different geographical areas; how contemporaries responded to ideas
and information about political processes and proceedings which these
media made available; and finally how print fostered and intensified
political participation, not least through lobbying, protesting,
electioneering and holding representatives to account. Again, a range of
articles (incl. [d] and [e]) presented detailed case studies illuminating
the social and geographical reach of print, the process of acculturation
to genres as diverse as the handbill and the newspaper, the importance of
non-commercial print culture, and the use of print to foster communication
between MPs and their constituents. The recent monograph [f] presents the
resulting synthesis: a major reassessment of the communications revolution
of the seventeenth century, which shows that amid structural change and
conjunctural upheaval a dramatic re-shaping of the political nation
occurred, as citizens from all walks of life developed new habits and
practices for engaging in daily political life, and for protecting and
advancing their interests. This process ultimately involved experience-led
attempts to rethink the nature of representation and accountability and
inspired the formulation of ideas which resonate to this day.
References to the research
[a] `The politics of British union in 1642 and the purpose of civil war
pamphlets', Historical Research, 80.210 (2007), 491-517.
[b] `Royalist news, parliamentary debates and political accountability,
1640-60', Parliamentary History, 26.3 (2007), 328-45.
and available on request. Peer-reviewed journal.
[c] `Print culture and political lobbying during the English Civil Wars',
Parliamentary History, 26.1 (2007), 30-48.
and available on request. Peer-reviewed journal.
[d] `Sir Edward Dering, popularity and the public, 1640-1644', Historical
Journal, 54.4 (2011). DOI: 10.1017/S0018246X11000355;
submitted to REF2. Peer-reviewed journal.
[e] `Print, publicity and popularity: the projecting of Sir Balthazar
Gerbier, 1640-1662', Journal of British Studies, 51.2 (2012),
submitted to REF2. Peer-reviewed journal.
[f] Print and Public Politics in the English Revolution
(Cambridge UP 2013).
Submitted to REF2. Part of distinguished monograph series from leading
Details of the impact
Peacey's research has had an impact on public understanding of the role
of mass media in politics and society insofar as it has provoked
discussion and reflection among large non-academic audiences in both US
and UK. In the US, Peacey communicated the results of his research to the
general public primarily through a major exhibition at the Folger
Shakespeare Library in Washington, DC, the world's most important
non-university centre for the study of the Age of Shakespeare. The impact
of the exhibition was further enhanced by Peacey's appearance on National
Public Radio (NPR), by blogs posted by visitors and above all by feature
articles in the quality press: The Nation, The New York Times
and Washington Post. In the UK, Peacey has engaged with the
general public via media appearances, on-line articles and public
lectures, notably including senior staff of the Secret Intelligence
The Folger exhibition, Breaking News: Renaissance Journalism and the
Birth of the Newspaper (25/9/2008-31/1/2009), co-curated with Chris
R. Kyle (a historian of the early modern British parliament at Syracuse
University), explored issues which have been central to Peacey's research
(esp. [b-d] and [f]), including government censorship and manipulation of
the news, the ways in which readers responded to journalists and their
innovations, and the opportunities which newspapers offered to citizens in
terms of facilitating political engagement and participation. This
exhibition resulted from a formal proposal to the Library by the two
curators, following informal encouragement from library staff, as well as
successful bids for funding from an educational trust, the Gladys Kriebel
Delmas Foundation, which contributed $20,000. Its preparation involved the
two curators sharing the responsibilities involved in undertaking research
within the Folger collections, collaborating with a range of curatorial
and conservation staff, and liaising with those involved in designing and
publicising the exhibition and its catalogue. In addition to drawing on
the Folger's own resources, the exhibition brought together materials from
collections in New York, Boston and London, and involved the construction
of a working full-scale replica of a seventeenth-century printing press,
which the Folger Library continues to use for educational purposes.
The (free) exhibition attracted c. 5,000 visitors, and was accompanied by
a website and an audio tour, both of which are still available . Also
still available is the substantial exhibition catalogue, of which 384
copies have been sold to date . Peacey outlined the key elements of the
exhibition on National Public Radio , and the feature articles in the
US press discussing the exhibition had a potential combined readership of
hundreds of thousands: the daily print circulation of New York Times
 is 779,731; the Washington Post  2.12 million; and The
Nation  174,000. Adding coverage in minor printed media, such as
the Washington Examiner, and the readership of blogs devoted to
the exhibition , we may conclude that Peacey's key research findings
reached up to 3 million people in the United States.
In the UK, Peacey presented elements of his research in three radio
programmes with a combined audience of 1.19 million people. He was a
contributor to Killing the King (Radio 3; 1 February 2009;
audience 51,000), which discussed evidence about and interpretations of
the trial of Charles I in 1649, not least the ways in which this key
episode was politically managed as a media event. He acted as historical
consultant and contributor to The Long View (Radio 4; 3 March
2009), where he offered the audience of 307,000 a historical perspective
on political transparency and accountability — not least in relation to
investigative journalism — during the recent scandal relating to MPs
expenses. His largest UK audience were the 832,000 listeners of Random
Edition (Radio 4; 7 May 2010) to whom he explained the role of a
vibrant journalistic culture in the events leading up to the Restoration
of the Stuart dynasty in 1660. More recently, he has communicated his
research findings on the relationship between the print revolution and
ideas about political representation through digital media, with an
article on the official website of the Westminster Parliament to mark
Parliament Week 2012 , and a contribution to a public history project
based at Sheffield University's Centre for the Study of Democratic Culture
, started up in early 2010.
Throughout, Peacey has also addressed wider audiences in person, giving
public lectures to a range of societies and institutions: the Maidstone
Museum (2008), Buckinghamshire Historical Association, Bath Royal Literary
and Scientific Institute (2009), the Cromwell Association (2010), the
Winchester Historical Association (2012), and, as noted, the Secret
Intelligence Service (2009), where he spoke on intelligence gathering
under Cromwell. These lectures had a combined audience of c. 400,
including the Director General of MI6.
This impressive reach is complemented by clear evidence of significance:
Peacey's audiences demonstrably learned from, and actively engaged with,
the research findings that he presented to them. This is best illustrated
by the response to the Folger Library exhibition. A nice indication of the
difference made by research is the contrast drawn by both a newspaper
reviewer and a blogging visitor between the Folger exhibition and an
ostensibly similar exhibition on the history of newspapers in the nearby `Newseum'.
Barbara Krasnoff's Live Journal blog sums up the latter as
provoking merely `a shrug', whereas Peacey's exhibition is by contrast
`fantastic' . What underlies her response is further articulated by E.
Rothstein in The New York Times , who argues that the Newseum
presents merely a glorification of the modern press, whereas the Folger
exhibition showed how `the genetic code of modern journalistic culture was
laid down four centuries ago in England' and provoked serious reflection
on the challenges now faced by print journalism. Indeed, Rothstein felt
that the exhibition illuminated the much larger story of the emergence of
`an expanded sense of the importance of individual opinion' and ultimately
`the birth of the modern West' itself. In The Nation, Richard
Byrne reported that the exhibition offered `useful' and `valuable' lessons
for those who are concerned about the fate of the news media in the modern
world, both because it showed how early journalism managed to overcome
obstacles to its development, and because it explained the `complex
interplay between government and the press' . Philip Kennicott in The
Washington Post, stressing the exhibition's `timely relevance' was
struck by other modern resonances. As well as pointing out the `stark and
powerful' lessons to be drawn from the evidence for the use and ultimate
failure of `brutal' censorship, he noted that `Folger exhibitions let you
make your own connections' and proceeded to identify striking similarities
between `journalism when it was young' and `our own anarchic and newly
democratised age of the World Wide Web' . The impact of Peacey's
research here lies in its ability to stimulate reflection on the nature
and potential of modern electronic media.
Not all feedback on Peacey's exhibition or other public engagement work
is quite so articulate, of course, but it does uniformly testify to its
`engrossing' nature, as the Washington Examiner put it , and
thus to its significant contribution to the intellectual life of a very
large audience, who have been not only educated in the history of the
printed media but also prompted to reflect on parallels with the position
of mass media in the modern world and on implications for the currently
controversial use of social media.
Sources to corroborate the impact
 Exhibition website: http://www.folger.edu/template.cfm?cid=2793
including a link to the audio tour. Attendance figures provided by e-mail
from Folger Library, available on request.
 Breaking News: Renaissance Journalism and the Birth of the
Newspaper by Chris R. Kyle & Jason Peacey, University of
Washington Press. ISBN: 9780295988733; see
Sales figures compiled from e-mails from Folger Library and the publisher,
available on request.
 NPR radio interview with Sam Litzinger on From the Nation's
Capital, January 2009. Podcast available at: http://www.gwu.edu/~newsctr/politics/podcasts.cfm.
 Edward Rothstein, `When the News was New', The New York Times,
24 January 2009, C1, C12, (http://www.nytimes.com/2009/01/24/arts/design/24muse.html?pagewanted=all&r=0).
This article in turn inspired blogs on the subject of the development of
the press, including
(the latter, under `Publick Occurences', links back to item .
 Philip Kennicott, `At the Folger Library, Old News with Timely
Relevance', Washington Post, 5 January 2009, http://articles.washingtonpost.com/2009-01-05/news/36918422_1_rival-paper-world-wide-web-reader-comments.
 Richard Byrne, `Ranters and Corantos', The Nation, 12-19
January 2009, pp. 42-44,
a blog discusses this article and links back to .
 Barbara Krasnoff's Live Journal, http://barb-krasnoff.livejournal.com/28133.html.
 `Publicising parliament in the seventeenth century', www.parliamentweek.org/stories-of-democracy/stories/publicising-parliament-in-the-seventeenth-century/.
 `Reviving political engagement the seventeenth century way' (The
Comparative History of Political Engagement, website of the Centre for the
Study of Democratic Culture),
 C. Klimek, `At the Folger, Elizabethan Ink Makes a Splash',