„Convince the world that they were not fictitious“ – political media and the crisis of credibility in 18th century Britain
BSECS 44th, Annual Conference, 6th to 8th January 2015, St Hugh’s College, Oxford, United Kingdom
Monika Renate Barget M.A. is PhD candidate at University of Konstanz, Germany. In her dissertation project, she focuses on the impact of 18th century riots, revolts and revolutions on the expansion of the political sphere and the redefinition of the body politic in Britain.
Contact information: University of Konstanz, Exc 16, POB D 213, Universitätsstraße 10, D – 78464 Konstanz
Paper submission: „Convince the world that they were not fictitious“ – political media and the crisis of credibility in 18th century Britain
Media – from performance to painting and print – are indispensable for the construction and communication of power relations. In times of conflict, however, both political hierarchies and the media representing them are fundamentally contested. In my paper on Britain and the colonies, I would like to discuss eminent examples of crisis-related media criticism and show how the differentiation of 18th century political agents was intertwined with shifts in communicative devices.
Starting with the Anglo-Hanoverian struggle for a monopoly on royal designs of sovereignty in the face of the Jacobite rebellions, I will argue that oppositional movements of the 1760s and 1770s fostered a pluralisation of the body politic, which called for renewed delimitations of political space. As a consequence, traditional media of governmental self-assertion began to take centre stage in contemporary media controversies. Especially during the American Revolution, proclamations published by the king and royal governors were popular objects of ridicule and subversive imitation. The frequent publication of intercepted letters and the rise of anonymous newspaper reports, however, also incited a general mistrust of mediated relations. In the course of anti-Catholic riots in Scotland (1779), the Gordon Riots in London (1780) and the Priestley Riots in Birmingham (1791), the credibility of public petitions, the authority of private advertisements and the moral validity of propagandistic handbills were doubted by lawyers, clergymen and leading politicians alike. Legitimate opposition had to heed specific rules of conduct and representation, which were now clearly distinguished from “ensigns of rebellion” and “mob violence”. Even though the French Revolution and the fear of a Jacobin overthrow posed another substantial threat in the 1790s, British political culture was able to agree to a compromise and pioneer non-violent constitutional reform.
Monika Barget M.A., University of Konstanz, EXC16
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