Things in time: a digital synchronic analysis of manuscript newsletters (1575-76)

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Kreuze, Wouter
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University College Cork
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The development of a news culture in early modern Europe profoundly affected the perception of time. Because political conceptions are generally understood to be historically rooted, this also affected the way in which political identities and unities were defined. I have therefore analysed and described the news network as it functioned within one moment in time using two different collections. This description has been made for the timeframe 1575-76, as for these years the archival documents have been well-preserved and coincide with an important political event in Genoa that is symptomatic for how the news system functioned. As the principal news genre of the sixteenth century the manuscript newsletter (or avviso) was created according to certain formal and textual properties that defined it as a genre. Its very recognizable lay-out, repeated in every document, divided material into separate header sections consisting of different news items per paragraph. This makes the avviso very suitable for collection in digital repositories and relatively easy to submit to a digital analysis. The analysis carried out here has been able to clarify that most avvisi came from a handful of locations where they appeared with regular intervals. That these really were continuous serials, is shown by the fixed weekdays on which they were usually published. Furthermore, authors writing from the same location seem to have relied on the same sources as testified by the many similarities between the series. This further proves that we are dealing with a proper news network that was impersonal and international. The writing style of the manuscript newsletters can be characterised as descriptive and devoid of embellishments. Yet, in the sixteenth century, news writing was often considered a questionable practice, as it had the reputation of spreading lies. Speculative accounts, furthermore, were seen as an eschatological hazard. That might explain the descriptive writing style and the avvisi’s apparently sympathetic stance towards Catholic causes. That is not to say that the world was regarded from the standpoint of universal values alone. News was probably more than anything an enumeration of particular events. That comes even more to the fore where the news was placed within its historical context. The prime example here is the Republic of Genoa, that was represented as not existing universally and perennially but as moving between key moments in its constitutional history. Having said that, Catholic world views are clearly deeply interwoven in the fabric of the news system. The texts often spoke in terms of ‘ours’ whenever discussing Catholic forces fighting Protestants or Muslims. The newsletters in general had a bias favouring ‘the Catholic kings’ of Spain, who were perceived as being more supportive of the Catholic cause. The Republic of Genoa was perceived as being part of this Catholic world order just as much as other states. There does appear to be a tendency, however, to see the party that did not enjoy the sympathy of most avviso writers, in this case the Genoese nuovi, as lacking in Catholic fervour. We can conclude therefore that in the second half of the sixteenth century, newsletters, notwithstanding their descriptive writing style, spoke with a distinct, especially Catholic, voice. By regularly dispatching news, they harnessed a distinct Catholic identity and created a community of readers. The news, however, was by its very nature transnational and reported upon what happened in remote areas. Its main purpose was to make particular events known to the public, not to communicate universal values. Therefore, it appears that the system was already inclined to the integration of areas with different confessional backgrounds, although this development began to gain momentum only around the year 1600.
Digital humanities , Avvisi , Early modern , History , News , Newsletters
Kreuze, W. P. 2023. Things in time: a digital synchronic analysis of manuscript newsletters (1575-76). PhD Thesis, University College Cork.
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