Category Archives: Print culture

jennie batchelor’s “p-word”: UPDATED

Lady's Magazine 1775

Over at the Lady’s Magazine project blog, Jennie Batchelor has posted about her research team’s deliberations about using the “p-word”–“plagiarism”–in relation to the Lady’s Magazine and its republication of writing taken from other printed sources.

As anyone who has perused the LM knows, every issue contains vast amounts of republished materials, sometimes with attribution, sometime with incorrect or misleading attributions, and often without any attribution at all. This kind of practice would certainly be considered a form of plagiarism today, but should we label it that way in retrospect? This turns out to be a surprisingly difficult question.

For one thing, the LM’s republishing of others’ content was never treated as a problem by the LM’s readers or even by its competitors; republication was a widely shared practice in both newspapers and magazines, and given tacit support by almost everyone involved. As Batchelor says,

The fact is that a significant number of contributions to the Lady’s Magazine were originally published elsewhere. The periodical did not conceal this fact from its readers. Often such extracts were published with their original author’s name and the full title of the work from which they were extracted or republished in full underneath the article headers. Indeed, the magazine was quite clear throughout its history that it would serve as a miscellany of works from ‘the whole circle of Polite Literature’ as appeared to the editor or editors to ‘merit their readers’ attention’, as well as providing a forum for the numerous original and amusing communications which we continually receive from our ingenious and liberal correspondents’ (‘Address to the Public’, LM XXIII [Jan 1792]: iv).

Yet the LM’s so-called “plagiarism” has become, for us, a much bigger problem, since we operate with very different assumptions about copyright, authorship, and commercial publishing. To complicate it further, today’s LM readers constitute a scholarly rather than commercial audience, and demand more definite information about the magazine and its sources than a casual reader might have desired during its heyday.

The question then becomes whether the scholarly critic or historian of the LM should retrospectively label the LM’s practice as plagiarism, and what is to be gained or lost by using such a term. For example, does giving up the term also entail abandoning attempts to identify the original authors, contexts, or venues of the writings that reappear in the LM? Conversely, could it be possible to continue using the term while dropping its moralistic overtones, which suggest some kind of “theft,” (of what? from whom?). Instead of fixating on these notions of immaterial theft, then, why not focus on the enormous network of contributors and sources that the LM helped to create?

Apart from the very real problems of authorial attribution that the LM research team is confronting in volume after volume, there is also the prospect of a fascinating conceptual payoff to this work, because both authorship and copyright were themselves undergoing radical redefinition during the period of the LM’s publication (e.g.,. the Ossian and Rowley controversies). Perhaps the editorial work will help us recognize this broader reconceptualization through the LM’s own evolving editorial practices.

Yet Batchelor admits that the already murky questions of copyright and plagiarism for literary genres become nearly opaque when we turn to 18c magazines’ editorial practice. So we are left with scant historical evidence about their ubiquitous borrowing.

My suspicion, though, is that the models for copyright and collective authorship in the magazine probably derived from newspapers rather than genres associated with single, named authors. For that reason, I believe the Lady’s Magazine project should drop the term “plagiarism” and use instead the term “republication,” which feels to me more descriptive of what the LM actually did and how it was perceived in its own historical moment.

Here are my reasons for dropping the term “plagiarism” from discussions of the LM:

The paradigm of intellectual property for the LM is not the single-author literary book, but the collectively generated newspaper. For the LM’s initial reading audience, the general practice for newspapers and periodicals had for a long time been a free and unrestricted republication, recirculation, or reworking of “found materials,” whether these were readers’ letters or printed matter. In an era without professional journalists, 18c newspapers could not have been filled week after week without massive amounts of reprinted or reader-supplied materials. Unlike the book-centered genre that most closely resembles the magazine, the anthology, the serial form of the magazine demanded large amounts of fresh content every month, and so the only practical solution to this limitless need was to capture as much content as possible from other printed sources and one’s readers.

In practice, this meant that any editorial staff (whose numbers rarely went beyond a single editor or a few reviewers) produced only a small percentage of a newspaper or magazine’s content, with the remaining items generated by the uncompensated labor of others, either as “extracts” of well-known writers, or as “the numerous amusing and original communications” written by the LM’s own “ingenious and liberal correspondents.”

It seems clear to me, then, that labeling these kinds of republications “plagiarized” would be anachronistic, given the ubiquity and acceptance of the practice, and the disinclination of contemporaries to label them this way.

“Piracy” might offer a less anachronistic term for republication than plagiarism, but even “piracy” was only rarely, and never successfully, applied to 18c periodicals’ republication practices in legal contexts. Since these uses of others’ material seems to have occurred more at the editorial than authorial level, “piracy”* might be a better, more historically apt term, though I don’t know of any cases where magazines’ republications were successfully equated with this era’s book piracy in this period’s law courts.

Will Slauter, for example, has argued that the 1710 Act of Anne “provided authors and booksellers with an exclusive right, during a limited period of time, to print, distribute, and sell their books. Yet the act made no mention of newspapers or other periodicals, whose status as literary property remained ambiguous well into the nineteenth century” (34). According to Slauter, 18c law courts tended to limit proprietors’ attempts to restrict the reworking or recirculation of their material. This was as true of extracts or adaptations as it was of periodical republications. The Act’s silence on this issue, however, did not prevent some publishers from registering their periodicals with the Stationer’s Company in the hopes of defending their property claims, though these forms of copyright were never formally challenged in court.

Thus, the proprietary claims of periodical publishers were treated with relative indifference by 18c courts and judges. This indifference towards the proprietary claims of periodical publishers, however, extended to the publishers themselves, according to Slauter:

such ownership claims [as patent holders’ printing rights for the king’s addresses] were rare with respect to most of the texts that filled eighteenth-century newspapers and magazines. No printer or editor would have dreamed of prohibiting the copying of paragraphs, because that would have made it much harder to fill his own columns. Politically speaking, it had also become more difficult to claim exclusive rights over news and political commentary. During the seventeenth century, censorship and literary property were linked, and news of state officially belonged to the monarch           . . . . During the eighteenth century, by contrast, news became the property of the public, and in a journalistic culture that privileged the free circulation of anonymous paragraphs and pseudonymous essays, it because increasingly difficult to argue that accounts of current events could be owned” (55).

Thus, the courts, newspapers and writers arrived at a tacit consensus that permitted the widest possible reprinting and recirculation of paragraphs as “the basic nugget of news,” treating those paragraphs as a “textual unit” that

could be easily detached from one source and inserted into another. The type had to be set locally, which gave printer-editors the opportunity to modify texts for their local audience. In the process they often stripped paragraphs of references to the circuitous path that they had taken (54).

Since these paragraphs of “news” could not be considered anyone’s exclusive property, they were allowed to be reworked innumerable ways in order to encourage the broadest possible circulation of news and knowledge.

It seems to me, then, that the brief “textual units” of the LM, though formally and generically examples of short fiction, moral essays, biographies, etc., were nonetheless treated on the model of the newspapers’ “textual units,” as a kind of readily accessible, transformable information that could be extracted or reworked as needed.

The magazine itself constituted a genre with its own conventions governing use and re-use of others’ writing, consuming and re-presenting its constituent genres in its own characteristic ways. Batchelor generously acknowledges some of my work (currently under review) on the key generic features of 18c magazines, which she identifies as its “miscellany content,” and which I have described as its ability to “consume other genres.”

The magazine’s capacity to serve as a store-room or repository for varied things (harking back to its etymological origins as a warehouse or depot or armory) seems crucial to its appeal to 18c readers, who read magazines for their generic and authorial variety rather than intimate or extensive knowledge of a particular writer.Once again, it seems to me that this aspect of the magazine’s use–its ability to convey variety and multiplicity to its readers–seems the best way to understand the LM’s cultural functions at this time.  And “plagiarism” tends to suggest very different kinds of use–essentially, the surreptitious theft of a named property–rather than the free exchanges suggested by “republication.”



*Slauter describes one publisher who “defined plagiarism as ‘the surreptitious taking of passages out of any author’s compositions without naming him’ and piracy as ‘the invasion of another’s property by reprinting his copies to his detriment,'” the better to defend his own practice of printing extracts with the author and title fully identified (48).


Since Dr. Konrad Claes has taken the time to follow up Batchelor’s initial post with a further response to my comments here, let me summarize where I think the discussion stands.

  1. I think we all agree that Slauter’s account of the Statute of Queen Anne leaves the precise legal status of non-book republication ambiguous.
  2. This does not mean, however, that authors and publishers did not sometimes try to protect their perceived property by rhetorically invoking the term, as in the case of Cave vs. Trapp, cited by Claes via Deazley. In these cases, Cave was forced to cease republishing extracts because he could not convince the judge he was not trying to reprint the entire work. Hence, magazines were always on safer ground publishing extracts rather than entire works. However, it seems to me that these extracts easily encompassed entire brief essays or stories, as portions of larger works.
  3. I believe that the distinction between plagiarism and piracy is maintained in the examples that Claes cites, when he shows that plagiarism usually describes an individual falsely submitting a work under his or her own name, whereas piracy describes a publisher like Cave simply reappropriating the work of another publisher. I look forward to Claes’s investigation of how both these terms were used throughout the long run of the LM



The Beginnings and Ends of Cultural Studies

As you’re all thinking about panel proposals for next year’s ASECS, we’re going to revisit the conversation from a panel at last year’s meeting:  “The Beginnings and Ends of Cultural Studies.”  Over the new few weeks we will be posting essays based on comments delivered at this panel, as well as some follow-up ideas that were not presented at the panel.

The inspiration for the panel that generated the essays that will follow came from two directions: first, from an observation that the Group for Early Modern Cultural Students (GEMCS), originally conceived to bring together scholars from a range of pre-1900 fields, has been attracting mostly students and professors in the field formerly known as “Renaissance;” and second, from the publication of William B. Warner and Clifford Siskin’s essay, “Stopping Cultural Studies.”  As chair of the Cultural Studies Caucus of the American Society for Eighteenth-Century Studies (ASECS), I proposed a session that combined these topics called “The Beginnings and Ends of Cultural Studies.”  While these two topics are not obviously related, both share certain challenges.  GEMCS had lively conferences, but never quite succeeded as much as was hoped in opening up the possibility of more integrated and far-reaching considerations of literature and culture across field divisions.  Partly, I think, this is due the fact that while twenty years ago the phrase “early modern” offered a range of possibilities, it has now, at least professionally, simply replaced “Renaissance,” so younger scholars coming into the discipline cannot be blamed for (mistakenly) assuming that a paper on Jane Austen would have no place at a GEMCS meeting.   Perhaps, though, there is a deeper issue as well and that recent stresses on the profession as a whole have made field distinctions even more important. If you can only go to one conference every year, it might be a better investment to seek out other specialists.  While decisions based on travel budgets are understandable, we nevertheless need to continue to think about ways to promote research and teaching that move beyond the limits of periodization.

While some of the papers on the panel considered periodization, most more centrally addressed the problem of Cultural Studies.  Warner and Siskin propose that we abandon the entire enterprise called “cultural studies,” although they do not offer an alternative and insist that they are under no obligation to do so.  They see two main problems with cultural studies as currently practiced: (1) that the term “culture” hides the doubled meanings of Culture (meaning great works of art, literature, etc.) and culture (meaning everyday practices, “non-literary” texts, etc.) and that (2) as a result we have been unable to “transcend previous limits” (104).  Much as we try to move beyond them, we keep getting pulled back to traditional objects of study and traditional disciplinary boundaries. 

            The panel attracted considerable attention, perhaps in part as a result of the rhetorical flair involved in telling one’s colleagues to cut it out.  Warner and Siskin are right that “culture” is a “Teflon category.”  But if the category contains so much slippage, how will we be able to tell when we’ve stopped?  Wouldn’t anything produced after stopping be easily folded back into this category?  How is “remediation”—the only suggestion of an alternative in the essay—not part of “culture”?  Their suggestion to stop cultural studies is so intriguing, disturbing, and puzzling,  I think, because in practical terms—and as defined by Warner and Siskin– it translates into stopping literary scholarship altogether, as cultural studies has become so amorphous as to encompass everything but perhaps New Criticism, to which few are clamoring to return in its original restricted form.  Thus, I think this essay provokes a key professional anxiety of our moment: that we will be stopped altogether.

            Over the next month or two, we will be posting the brief comments written by the panelists who participated, who attended, and/or who have something to say about this issue.   These essays take seriously the possibly of stopping, but also explore ways to get started again.  They look at cultural studies in the broader context of disciplinary survival.  Some address how cultural studies has disturbed, challenged, and stretched departments and curricula.  And yet if, in spite of this turbulence, cultural studies ultimately, as Warner and Siskin suggest, preserves rather than upends, then maybe it has been the ally of literary study all along.  Warner and Siskin observe that cultural studies has insufficiently transformed institutional practice; some of the essays, however, record experiences of grappling with the opposite objection: that cultural studies has changed department offerings too much.  Both objections point to a concern that literature department curricula are somehow not aligned with the needs, desires, or ideal education of today’s students.  I wonder, then, if taking this common ground seriously might lead us to another way into the problem.  Perhaps we might think about ways to move from this one-way street to a two-ways street; that is, to think about what we want students to learn as not only shaped by our research programs, but as itself a partner in further inquiry.


Works Cited

Warner, William B. and Clifford Siskin. “Stopping Cultural Studies.” Profession (2008): 94-107. Print.

An Eighteenth-Century Interactive Book?





Jonas Hanway, said to be the first Englishman to carry an umbrella as protection from the rain


Speaking of maps, as I was reading Jonas Hanway’s Historical Account of the British Trade over the Caspian Sea, the author paused in his narrative to tell me that he would now provide excerpts from the journals of other British merchants travelling in the region, and that I should pull out the map that he included and follow their paths along with their narratives.  That way I would better understand and more appreciate their journeys. I found this striking as I can’t recall a time when an eighteenth-century author has told me to do something that specific.  Yes, the Spectator implies that I should be virtuous, watch my reputation, keep the next life in mind, not wear a hoop petticoat, and read the news judiciously.  But here the author is telling me very precisely what to do with the book: cut out the included map, lay it on the table, and maybe even draw in the different routes as I read. Of course I refrained as I didn’t think the librarians at the Folger would appreciate it, but I’m interested as to whether or not others have encountered such particular instructions.

Tyburn’s Martyrs

The criminals went to the place of execution in the following order, Morgan, Webb, and Wolf, in the first cart; Moore in a mourning coach; Wareham and Burk in the second cart; Tilley, Green, and Howell in the third; Lloyd on a sledge; on their arrival at Tyburn they were all put into one cart. They all behaved with seriousness and decency. Mary Green professed her innocence to the last moment of the fact for which she died, cleared Ann Basket, and accused the woman who lodged in the room where the fact was committed. As Judith Tilley appeared under terrible agonies, Mary Green applied herself to her, and said, do not be concerned at this death because it is shameful, for I hope God will have mercy upon our souls; Catharine Howell likewise appeared much dejected, trembled and was under very fearful apprehensions; all the rest seemed to observe an equal conduct, except Moore, who, when near dying, shed a flood of tears. In this manner they took their leave of this transitory life, and are gone to be disposed of as shall seem best pleasing to that all-wise Being who first gave them existence.

In the course of my research over the years, I’ve read the records of coroners’ inquests – murders, gruesome accidents, negligence and cruelty – and they are distressing and disturbing, yet they don’t evoke quite the same sense of culture shock as do the pamphlets containing accounts of executions like the one above.

We aren’t simply talking about the execution of murderers here: in the 18th century burglars, robbers, pickpockets, horse thieves, sheep- and cattle-rustlers, forgers and counterfeiters could all face slow, horrible deaths, in most cases public strangulation, and this was regarded by most people as perfectly normal and civilised. (Indeed, there were those who thought that hanging was not punishment enough.)

Ordinary’s Accounts are one of the many sources we’re digitising in the Plebeian Lives project. These are rich and fascinating sources, full of stories of the lives of common people. But they are also stories of death, and they give me the willies.

So, I wasn’t quite sure what to make of Andrea McKenzie, since she has written an entire, densely detailed book about the subject and the source: Tyburn’s Martyrs: Execution in England 1675-1775. She must be a tougher soul than me.

In fact, at the very beginning of the book she mentions some of the bemused reactions she received from people learning what her research topic was, including the gentleman who suggested that she should study “something pleasant, like great battles”.

McKenzie suggests that “the gallows were… a stage on which the condemned fought what contemporaries would have viewed as the greatest battle of all, publicly confronting the so-called ‘King of Terrors’: death”. Moreover, “the language of martyrology, legitimation and resistance were intertwined… traitors, martyrs, murderers and robbers alike drew from a common eschatology in which the ‘good death’ was not only an ultimate goal, but a powerful political and metaphysical statement’.

As she acknowledges, “there is much about early modern English sensibilities – or what we would see as the lack thereof – to horrify the modern reader”. But this is not a good reason to shy away from the topic: early modern attitudes towards execution are revealing of wider belief systems, which saw life as “not sacred, but forfeit… as a result of original sin”. Execution “was at the very heart of everyday contemporary eschatological discourse”.

McKenzie documents the journeys made by the condemned from Newgate to Tyburn, the reactions of observers to the behaviour of those on the gallows, depending on whether they were perceived to have made a ‘good’ death. The actions of the watching crowd often depended on their attitude towards individual convicts: the notorious and despised Jonathan Wild, for example, was pelted with stones.

She also traces the history of the publications that constitute her main sources, the ‘last dying speeches’ and Ordinary’s Accounts, and their decline in the later 18th century with the cultural rejection of the spectacle of the scaffold and its printed artefacts as vulgar and barbaric. McKenzie makes it clear that the Ordinary’s Account – and often its author – was frequently considered vulgar well before its decline.

The complex balancing act of ‘dying well’ on the gallows – striving for a “happy mean between presumption and despair” – is chronicled in detail. While the condemned were exhorted to think of Jesus as an exemplar, they were not supposed to go so far as to suggest that his innocence also mirrored theirs.

The ‘game criminal’ was the target of much criticism by the Ordinary – the real-life likes of Swift’s Clever Tom Clinch:

He stopt at the George for a Bottle of Sack,
And promis’d to pay for it when he’d come back.

Like a Beau in the Box, he bow’d low on each Side;
And when his last Speech the loud Hawkers did cry,
He swore from his Cart, it was all a damn’d Lye.

Still, the obstinate ‘game’ criminals served as useful counterpoints to the properly and tearfully (but not too tearful, especially the men) penitents, for the Ordinary’s moralising purposes. Their ‘false courage’ (mainly due to alcohol, according to the Ordinary) could be contrasted to genuine ‘Christian courage’, their pride made their fall inevitable and all the more instructive.

But it was difficult to doubt the courage of one group killed by the early modern English state: those who underwent peine forte et dure – pressing to death – for their obdurate refusal to plead to charges against them. Some may have done this to prevent the seizure of their estates following a trial; but by the 18th century that was not very likely to happen in any case. McKenzie suggests that the decision to endure this torture represented a challenge to, a rejection of, the authority of the courts, allowing them to ‘seize the initiative’ and ‘demonstrate their resolution and courage’ to the world.

Peine forte et dure was abolished in 1770, by which time it was seen by educated elites as ‘irrational and benighted’ as well as barbaric and cruel. Similarly, by then, the public theatre of Tyburn no longer had the cultural and moral resonance that it had had in the early 18th century; the Ordinary’s Account ceased publication in the 1770s. The Tyburn procession was abolished in 1783 – though not because it was unpopular, but because it was too rowdy and undisciplined.

There is, McKenzie concludes, a cultural gulf between 1675 and 1775 “so wide that, from the vantage point of the twenty-first century, we can barely see our way across it”. She views the change in terms of not a ‘decline’ in religiosity but its ‘redefinition’: the rejection of ‘enthusiasm’ and providentialism in favour of “a ‘rational religion in which rationality was both a human and divine attribute”, and which emphasised internalised virtues rather than public displays. McKenzie’s study demonstrates the benefits of overcoming our horror and at least attempting to understand what made the people of the early 18th century tick.

Further reading, for the stout-hearted

Tyburn Tree: Execution in Early Modern England
Old Bailey Proceedings (server is down again at the moment, so I can’t track down the punishment pages)
Last Mile Tours: hanging in 18th-century England
Early Eighteenth-century Newspaper Reports
EMR Bibliography
Simon Devereaux, Imposing the Royal Pardon: Execution, Transportation, and Convict Resistance in London, 1789

(X-posted (and shortened somewhat) from EMN.)

NYC-area announcement!

Hello, all! NEASECS last weekend was a wonderful time, especially finally meeting Dave Mazella after over a year of knowing one another as co-bloggers online. We had a great conversation about academic blogging and the purposes it can serve our particular community, as well as its limitations. I had an exciting nine-hour train ride that Thursday, and again on Saturday, providing an excellent break from work here in New York and some beautiful vistas of the Vermont countryside in full fall splendor.

In other news, the Eighteenth-Century Interdisciplinary Group here at the City University Graduate Center will be hosting an exciting event this Friday at 2pm. Paula McDowell (Associate Professor of English at NYU) will be presenting a talk entitled “‘Gently drawn, and struggling less and less’: Media Shift and Agency in Pope’s Dunciad and McLuhan’s Pope.”

The talk and ensuing conversation will take place in the Graduate Center’s Mina Rees Library, in the Eighteenth-Century Reading Room on the concourse level, room C196.05. The Graduate Center is at 365 Fifth Avenue in Manhattan. (Please email me at if you’d like to attend, so we can give your name to the library security staff.) We will enjoy refreshments and have a nice long chat afterward.

I hope to see you there!

Scandal, Print, and Performance

I had originally framed this discussion as a reflection on the difference between thinking about print capitalism and performance as shaping forces in nationalism (we’ll get to the Scandal part later).  As Roach suggests, one of the most forceful claims for turning to performance is that it broadens the idea of nationalism.  All cultures, as he suggests, in some ways perform their identities.  By looking at performance, we can think about the way groups without print cultures (enslaved African, native Americans) expressed collective identities and evoked cultural memories.  Rituals around death, then, take on a particular importance because of the ways in which they connect the past to the present.  While one kind of historical narrative might propose the transition from performance culture to print culture, Roach instead shows their overlap. In some ways this reminds me of the way Marx utilizes the fetish: Just as fetishism is not abandoned with historical “advances,” so performance does not give way to print. (Might we also say that theater and even other narrative forms, such as romance, do not actually give way to the realist novel?) Cities of the Dead, then, shows that Imagined Communities only addresses a certain kind of nationalism.

            On re-reading
Anderson last week, however, I was struck as well by how much they share.  One extremely important idea that they both develop is the significance of both remembering and forgetting. 
Anderson develops this idea from a statement by Ernst Renan, who wrote that French citizens are “obliged already to have forgotten”– “doit avoir oublié la Saint-Barthélemy.   “In effect, Renan’s readers were being told to ‘have already forgotten’ what Renan’s own words assumed that they naturally remembered!” (200). For Roach, I believe, the eighteenth century developed a very special knack for forgetting.  In both Cities of the Dead and Imagined Communities, both remembering AND forgetting become crucial in the formation of national identity.  But while Anderson focuses on the formation of nation-states as well as personal identification with such institutions, Roach follows out in more detail both the thread of forgetting (commitments for liberty in an age of enslavement, for example) but also subaltern strategies for collective consciousness through memory.

            What do others think about these two (overlapping) models? How have either of these important and fascinating works influenced the way you think about and/or teach the eighteenth century?


Laura Rosenthal

After Atlanta: Scandal, Print, Performance, and Nation

In February several of us at the University of Maryland blogged about Maxine Berg (and David Hume) on luxury and commodity culture in anticipation and as follow-up to the meeting of our reading group. Several others contributed as well. This time, I am posting the topic and reading in advance to encourage everyone to join us in this discussion.

Scandal, Print, Performance, and Nation

In 1777, Sheridan’s *School for Scandal* became a hit on the London stage.  As a play about print culture, *School for Scandal* stands at the crossroads of two major arguments about the emergence of nationalism at the end of the eighteenth century.  In his classic *Imagined Communities,* Benedict Anderson argues that print capitalism in this period established and disseminated a new sense of national identity.  Challenging this perspective, Joseph Roach has argued for looking to performance as a more capacious medium that allows for an understanding of a wider variety of nationalisms.  The plot of *Scandal* hinges on both inherited Englishness and imperial spoils; on scandal sheets and scandalous performances. Please join us for a discussion of this play and these two major critical paradigms on Monday, April 9, 3:30-5:30, SQH 3109, University of Maryland.

Critical Readings:

1. Joseph Roach’s *Cities of the Dead* (1996): p. 1-31 (intro), Ch 3, and Ch 4
2. Benedict Anderson’s *Imagined Communities* (1991): p. 1-46 (the intro + chs 1-2)

We look forward to your thoughts on this topic. 

Blog Triumphalism, Redux.

Apparently the oldest title still in (continuous) circulation has just left off printing entirely, becoming a purely online publication. I don’t read Swedish, so I can’t decipher a word of the thing, although “logga in” is both obvious and, to anglophone ears, funny.

Poor Hans Holm, the paper’s editor for twenty years, thinks it’s “a cultural disaster.” I think it’s fabulous. A readership of a thousand people was huge three hundred years ago; now it’s miniscule by newspaper standards. If the most important effect of print culture was its democratizing potential (answer: yes), then online publication–cheap, self-archiving, and available worldwide–expands the project exponentially.

I’ma cross-post this at The Valve.

And speaking of periodicals . . .

Is anyone trying to teach these canonical or non-canonical essayists in their classes?  I’ve had some success at the grad level, as part of a multi-genre overview of the period, but it’s always seemed odd to read a big chunk of the Tatler or Spectator in one week.  They make great supplementary texts while teaching other stuff, though.  Any stand-alone courses out there?  Public sphere courses?  Is there such a thing as a non-fiction 18th century course any more?  Or have we completely capitulated to the hegemony of the novel?


Tedra Osell on the Uses of Pseudonyms

Since I liked this piece, I asked Tedra if we could run her MLA presentation on 18c periodical essayists and blogging personae. I thought it would be useful for us to talk about, because it pushes the historical analogy further and reflects a bit on the function of pseudonyms in public writing. Tedra also notes that this is an earlier draft than the one delivered, because of a hard-drive meltdown. Nonetheless, I think it’s got plenty for us to consider.–DM


I’m Nobody, Who Are You?

It’s really strange to be here delivering this talk. Because no one in the audience is here to hear what Tedra Osell, the scholar of 18th century studies with one article to her name, coming from a university few people have even heard of, currently on leave, is here to say. This isn’t even an 18th century panel. You’re all here to see Michael, or Scott or John, or a persona named [pseudonymous blogger]. And, of course, it was PB, not Tedra Osell–who was invited to be on the panel in the first place. But for whatever reason, the MLA doesn’t yet allow personae to deliver papers, so here I am instead.  And since 18th-century studies is, in fact, my field, I’m going to talk a little bit about 18th-century studies. On the other hand, since it’s PB who was invited to be on the panel, I’ll do so in her style, which is (ironically, since she’s only a persona) first-person and personal, rather than in my style, which is more typically academic (and therefore less interesting, or at least less novel).

Like most of the stuff PB does, the underlying premises of her creation are apparent to me, Tedra, only in retrospect. What led to my being online at all was my being pregnant while I was writing my dissertation; I went looking for stuff about pregnancy and babies and life/work balance and ended up on the HipMama forums, which were a really awesome mothering resource that no longer exists. The forums went down, and I finished my dissertation, and went on the market, and then some of my old friends from HipMama wrote and said that they were all starting LiveJournals and I should too, so I did that for a while and wrote about my job search. Since I was getting more interested, by this point, in that subject than in babies, I started wanting a forum to talk about academia–which was also a topic some of my mama friends were interested in, but between feeling the desire for a more public kind of accountability and the desire to be a little *less* public about specific things like where I was interviewing, and the like, I went over to blogger and started a blog there–the name for which I came up with offhandedly, in a late-night chat with an old college friend, by the way.

What led to my making Pseudonymous Blog (I hope) into something more than “just” a personal blog, though, was said dissertation. What I wrote on, and am supposed to work on (though I haven’t, much, lately) is 18th-century periodical publishing. Specifically, 18th-century periodical essays, the best known of which are the Tatler (which still exists, as the title of a British society magazine), the Spectator, and Johnson’s Rambler. The 19th-century canon of 18th-century essays included other titles, now forgotten, and–as I came to realize–mostly written by a more-or-less connected group of Whig politicians and Whiggish hangers on, a kind of 18th-century old boys club. (Which, I have to say, established a canon not only by promoting its own, but also simply because the Whig world view was, in fact, on the ascendant–so that what Whiggish writers wrote was, in fact, more popular.)

But there were literally hundreds of these essay periodicals that weren’t canonical, and many of these were anonymously written. Or, I should say, pseudonymously, because one of the quickly-established features of the genre was an eponymous authorial persona. There were two Parrots, both written by parrots; a North Briton, written by an anonymous Scotsman; The Young Lady, written by a Young Lady, and so on.

One of the most successful essay periodicals to fail to enter the canon was The Female Tatler (written by “Mrs. Crackenthrope,” mostly, and then by a Society of Ladies), which began publishing shortly after the Tatler did, and successfully competed with it (a singular achievement) partly through the extremely clever conceit of publishing on alternate days and claiming to represent an alternate–i.e., woman’s–point of view. To this day, the author of the Female Tatler is at best an educated guess: the CBEL still lists the probable author as Thomas Baker, based on stories that Baker was publicly beaten because of something that the Female Tatler wrote. The few scholars who work on the thing, though, have pretty much moved over to attributing it to Delariviere Manley, aka Mary Delariviere Manley. The evidence for this attribution rests on Manley’s having been arrested just as Mrs. Crackenthorpe turned over the reins to the Society of Ladies, now known to have been mostly the creation of Bernard Mandeville, a friend and associate of Manley’s. No one admits this outright, but I suspect strongly that an underlying reason for this (rather thin) evidence having been accepted so widely is the desire or belief that, in fact, the Female Tatler should have been written by a woman.

By now, probably, most of you are seeing the parallels to blogging, or at least to my own blog. In effect, my blog was doing more or less the same thing that 18th-century periodical essayists were doing: writing more-or-less personal essays on a regular schedule, using a consistent eponymous pseudonym, about topics from politics to the latest news to what the author dreamt last night or where he or she had dinner, and what the company talked about. And, more specifically, just as the Female Tatler consciously courted an audience by explicitly presenting an “alternative” viewpoint, “Pseudonymous Blog” was a title chosen–however casually–in order to represent a kind of paradox, an “alternative” point of view on the ostensible success of having finished the degree, landed a good tenure-track job, and embarked on an academic career that I felt I was kind of faking (and blogging itself magnifies that feeling–after all, as I said in the beginning, PB is a far more successful academic than Tedra Osell).

Now, it isn’t especially groundbreaking of me to say “wow, blogging’s just like 18th-century periodical publication!” Most of the 18th-centuryists I know have made this observation at one point or another. There are a couple of other similarities, as well: 18th-century periodicals instituted the letter to the editor, which was in its day as marked an innovation as blog comments. The Tatler, in particular, played with this innovation by introducing fake letters (written by Richard Steele, its primary author), by using real letters as essays (presented either as submissions or revised slightly and printed without attribution), and by engaging in multi-issue discussions with correspondents–virtually all of whom, following the paper’s own model, wrote under pseudonyms or initials, by the way. There were interpaper spats and dramas, along with threats to reveal author’s identities (or thin allusions to identities that “everyone” supposedly already knew).

And, just as with blogs, there were those who celebrated the emergence of print ephemera as a revolutionizing, democratizing force: “anyone” could start a paper, or write to one, or publish in one. Of course, a canon emerged rather quickly and, as I said, it favored a small group of loosely interconnected ideological comrades (more or less); the “where are the women” question wasn’t asked at the time, but if you were to look exclusively at the canonical 18th-century periodicals, you might be tempted to conclude that women didn’t write many of them–and the 1992 “Women Advising Women” microfilm collection, which includes 40 periodicals and periodical-type miscellanies along with conduct books and the like, has several titles that appear, or are known to have been written by men using female personae for either satirical or didactic purposes.

Which brings me to the two main points I want to raise for discussion and, one hopes, further research. First, notwithstanding post-Habermas discontent, I think it’s fair to say that the 18th century generally, and periodical print culture specifically, established if not an actual fully-realized public sphere, at least what I like to call the “enabling fiction” of the public sphere: that is, the idea (which even Habermas’ critics invoke more or less self-consciously) that we should work towards such a thing, and that (though this is somewhat more debatable) that we’re all more or less in agreement about what such a thing would involve.

Second, along the same lines, that we really don’t know how unrealized the imperfect textual public sphere really was (then) or is (now). And I think that this is related to something I suspect, based on my own practice and an (unscientific and imperfectly conceived) survey I did about a year ago, putting out a call for respondents on my blog and then emailing a survey to all those who showed interest. I got about 450 narrative responses, which are impossible, really, to perfectly interpret. But the jist of the results correspond with my observations in the blogosphere, and my observations of 18th-century anonymous periodicals. I suspect that the vast majority of pseudonymous writers are exactly who they represent themselves as, at least insofar as gender is concerned.

We all joke that “on the internet, no one knows you’re a dog,” but it seems to me that, in fact, this isn’t true. Even unschooled readers are fairly savvy about generic form, and one of the formal conceits of public discourse is that people whose social identities are marked as “other”–women, in this case–will, when writing personally, draw attention to their persons. Pseudonyms prevent texts from being impersonal, from pretending to objectivity; they draw attention to the author’s role in a way that a straight byline does not. At the same time, though, pseudonyms make a text more fully public: by hiding the author’s identity, the author becomes potentially anyone. Pseudonyms mean something, and one of the things they mean is that the pseudonymous writer has a reason for pseudonymity. When pseudonymity becomes a generic feature, as with essay periodicals and blogs, one of the things that means is that the genre entails risk, that publishing is risky.

If pseudonymity suggests risk, risk suggests that writers are motivated by something more important than the risk that entails. For some 18th-century women, the need to make money was more important than the association between publication and whorishness. Few bloggers make money on their blogs, and profitability isn’t morally problematic any more; but the desire to talk about work conditions, or personal problems, or politics, or parenting (apparently) more important than fears of being fired, or embarrassment, or shamed. But because those risks are real, writers publish pseudonymously.

Let me back this up with a brief and partial summary of what the survey I did suggested. To date, I’ve collated about 1/3rd of the responses, and so far 92% of pseudonymous women bloggers self-report that their content is clearly gendered (by mentioning pregnancy, husbands, professional concerns as women). This despite the fact that most of their pseudonyms were gender neutral: “Dr. Crazy,” for instance, rather than (say) “Hysterical Woman.” In contrast, only 65% of pseudonymous men said that their content was clearly masculine–but some of those who claimed neutrality also said that they simply had never considered the question and therefore *assumed* their content was neutral, and two of these admitted that they mentioned their wives (one resolved this apparent contradiction by explaining that “nowadays, that doesn’t necessarily mean anything”–one wonders if he really thinks that lesbian bloggers are likely to mention wives, but not lesbianism). Men and women both say they use pseudonyms because they’re afraid of being fired. But more men than women said that they chose to use their real names because they hoped their blogs would be professionally advantageous; these self-reported that they didn’t talk much about their families in order to guard their privacy. In contrast, more women than men say they blog pseudonymously in order to talk about private / personal things. On the other hand, there were women (but no men) who said that they had chosen to break their pseudonymity in order to either claim their blogs as a professional asset, or more generally to “get credit for their work.” (I want, by the way, to point out the particular advantage of periodicity here–one’s goals and purpose can change over time).

The biggest difference, though, is that 65/92% gap between men’s and women’s self-reported awareness of gendered content. This, along with the fact that women tended to report blogging as a process of discovery, a form of honesty, a “confidence-builder,” suggests that publication still “feels” risky for women in a way it doesn’t for men, and that this very sense of risk is part of what compels women to write, as women, about things they think of as gendered in nature. The paradox here is that this perception of risk compels publication, rather than suppressing it, and this makes me want to hypothesize that the content of public writing is determined less by gender per se than by issues of property and authorship.

Comments, anyone?