“Communicating crisis – media criticism and the quest for credibility in the face of political violence in 18th century Europe”

BSECS 44th, Annual Conference, 6th to 8th January 2015,
St Hugh’s College, Oxford, United Kingdom

Proposal by Dr. Malte Griesse, David de Boer M.A. and Monika Barget M.A., University of Konstanz, Germany, research group “Early Modern Revolts as Communicative Events”:
From the 1940s to the rise of the digital age, international research on media and their political potential  was marked by strong antagonisms. In the US, research on communication was very much concerned with empirical studies of the de facto influence of media on individual behaviour, whereas the Glasgow and Birmingham schools turned towards neo-Marxist cultural materialism and studied the role of gender and class within media-based societies. H.M. Mc Luhan focused on the interrelations of language and script in the face of audio-visual mass communication, and Jean Baudrillard famously tackled excrescences of media usage in totalitarian societies. Despite their different methodological and ideological backgrounds, however, many studies of the 1980s and 1990s were convinced that linguistic aspects of communication were gradually being replaced by visualisation or even hybrid forms of “multimodality”, which would eventually reshape cultural identity and power relations.
Media criticism, however, is not only an important aspect of present-day social sciences and historiography, but already dominated early modern discourse all throughout Europe. Especially in times of economic decline, revolt or external war, the accessibility and, above all, credibility of media was being called continuously into question. And similar to contemporary controversies, media criticism was frequently intertwined with social criticism and moral dispute.


The 18th century saw a general expansion and diversification of the media market. This led to a decline of censorship and a considerable rise of non-government patronage. Almost all existing forms of communication became publicly contested and were gradually adapted to new ideals of efficiency, reliability and competitiveness.
In our panel on 18th century crisis communication in Britain, Russia and the Dutch Republic, we would like to show how experiences of political change and instability collided with a refined self-reflection on the part of media producers as well as patrons and readers.


Within our research group “Revolts as communicative events” at University of Konstanz, Germany, we define communication as conscious interaction and multilateral exchange of information within and between different  strata of society. Such communication is not only  perceptible in distribution media, but can also be explored in  manifestations of oral communication and  enactments of physical presence as a token of truth.

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