Creative Commons licensed photograph, "Underwood," by Flickr user Canned Muffins

All That's Fit to Print

Lab #7

In today’s lab we looked closely at a set of newspapers from the nineteenth century. I asked you to look closely and consider both the qualities they share with contemporary forms of news, and the qualities you found peculiar—things you would not expect to find in a modern newspaper, or on a modern news website.

While newspapers were not a new medium in the nineteenth century, they were newly ubiquitous and accessible to a much wider swathe of the population than they had been before. Recall that in Franklin’s Autobiography he claims that “at this time” (in 1771) “there are not less than five-and twenty” newspapers in the American colonies. By the 1870s there were many thousands of newspapers in the United States, and they served a range of communities and constituencies. And, as in other historical moments when a medium’s reach expands, there were many fears in the period about the quality and veracity of the texts conveyed in newspapers, as well as about what these new readers would draw from them.

In your lab report I want you to home in on the consistencies and peculiarities you noticed in the lab, and use these qualities of this medium to think more deeply about what these newspapers might have meant: to writers, to editors, to printers, to readers. How do their form and content relate to one another? What worldview was instantiated the Salem Gazette or St. Louis Globe Democrat: what view of the region, the nation, the world? In short, what was a newspaper, exactly, in this period? And then: how does that medium compare with contemporary examples?