Saturday, June 6, 2020
June 6-7, 2020: Mass MediaStudying: Joseph Adelman’s Revolutionary Networks
[On June 1st, 1980, the Cable News Network (CNN) aired its first broadcast. So this week I’ve AmericanStudied cable news and four other significant evolutions in American mass media, leading up to this special post on one of the best scholarly studies of media and the Revolution!]
My original plan for this post was to write a bit about what makes Joseph Adelman’s Revolutionary Networks: The Business and Politics of Printing the News, 1763-1789 (2019) so impressive and worth your purchase, reading, and time. But just over a month ago, the great historian Lindsay Chervinsky (herself the author of a wonderful new book on George Washington’s Cabinet) created History Summit 2020, an event where the authors behind new and recent books got to share videos featuring their own thoughts and work (as well as engage with readers on Twitter). As a result, you don’t have to take my word for it—here’s Adelman’s History Summit page and video on Revolutionary Networks!
All I’ll add is this: as I hope this week’s series has illustrated, mass media has been not just a consistent but a hugely influential presence across all of American history. While historians and other scholars recognize that fact, I don’t know that our broader public conversations or collective memories sufficiently do, and the Revolution is a good example—our collective memories of the Revolutionary era tend to focus on particular individuals (Paul Revere, Betsy Ross, the Founding Fathers) and events (the Boston Tea Party, the Declaration of Independence, Lexington and Concord), and even many of my arguments for expanding those memories have emphasized other individuals or communities (Elizabeth Freeman and Quock Walker, Loyalists). But for the vast majority of Americans in the Revolutionary era, the kinds of news networks that Adelman analyses were far more present and influential in their lives than any individuals or events, however prominent. Which is a good argument for making Mass MediaStudying a more consistent part of our AmericanStudying—starting with great scholarly works like Adelman’s book!
Next series starts Monday,
PS. What do you think? Other mass media moments or movements you’d highlight?