Atlantic History News
Will Slauter
  • LAST REVIEWED: 22 December 2022
  • LAST MODIFIED: 29 April 2015
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199730414-0258


The circulation of news—defined broadly as accounts of recent events, whether spoken, written, or printed—was integral to many of the political, economic, religious, and cultural developments that interest historians of the Atlantic World. The study of news is important not least for understanding what people knew about distant events, and how they came to know it. As early as 1493, reports of Columbus’s first voyage spread across Europe in letters that were translated and printed in several cities. From then on, transatlantic ships carried news in the form of letters, printed texts, and oral reports by ship captains and other travelers. Such news was sometimes printed for local distribution in the form of broadsides and pamphlets. More often it circulated through the correspondence networks of merchants and diplomats, some of whom actively participated in the production of handwritten newsletters—called avvisi in Italian—that were sold to elite clients or traded for other news. The avvisi in turn became important sources for printed news periodicals—often called corantos—that began to appear in several European cities in the early 17th century. Although the corantos and later European gazettes paid attention to transatlantic trade and colonial developments—especially naval battles and the return of treasure fleets—the transatlantic dimensions of early modern journalism have only begun to be explored. Studies of news in the 18th and early 19th centuries have been somewhat more likely to adopt an Atlantic framework, especially those centered on the American, French, and Latin American revolutions. Although there have been a few studies of Transatlantic News Flows by specialists of the Habsburg Empire, the Dutch Republic, France, Britain, and the early United States, most histories of news focus on a particular country or language (such as the Anglo-American press or the French-language press in Europe). The organization of this bibliography along political and linguistic lines is meant to help students and scholars locate work that has been done so far, rather than to create a program for future scholarship, since the idea of distinct English, French, Spanish, Portuguese, and Dutch Atlantics remains a matter of debate. Separate sections list studies of the shipping routes and postal networks through which news flowed, as well as works that stress the importance of oral and handwritten news during the period covered by this bibliography, roughly from the early 17th century through the early 19th century.

General Overviews

There are no surveys of news in the Atlantic world, though a number of the studies listed in this and other sections consider the transatlantic migration of news and journalistic practices. Pettegree 2014 is a history of news in all its forms from the medieval period through the late 18th century. Building upon recent studies of handwritten newsletters, printed broadsides, and pamphlets, this account insists that the newspaper did not become dominant until the late 18th century. Dooley and Baron 2001 includes overviews of news publishing in several European countries during the 16th and 17th centuries. Raymond 2011 explores the wider print and manuscript cultures of which news was a part. Steele 1986 is a pioneering study of communication between England and its American colonies, and is crucial for understanding the shipping and postal routes that determined the flow of news. Clark 1994 remains the single best book on the development of newspapers in the Anglo-American world during the late 17th and early 18th centuries. For the late 18th and early 19th centuries, Barker and Burrows 2002 is an excellent starting point. In this volume, specialists of the press in a number of European countries and British North America discuss the production, distribution, and readership of news periodicals and their role in the formation of public opinion. Uribe-Uran 2000 surveys the development of newspapers in Spanish and Portuguese America as part of a larger study of the public sphere in the years before and during the independence movements. Focusing on English- and French-language publications in the late 18th century, Slauter 2012 studies the paragraph as a unit of news that could be reprinted, translated, and rewritten, showing how news evolved as it traveled around the Atlantic world.

  • Barker, Hannah, and Simon Burrows, eds. Press, Politics and the Public Sphere in Europe and North America, 1760–1820. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2002.

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    This comparative volume provides a good overview of the newspaper press in the late 18th and early 19th centuries. There are chapters on the Netherlands, the German lands, England, Ireland, English-speaking North America, France, the Italian peninsula, and Russia. Burrows’s chapter considers the circulation of French-language gazettes across Europe.

  • Clark, Charles E. The Public Prints: The Newspaper in Anglo-American Culture, 1665–1740. New York: Oxford University Press, 1994.

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    A crucial study for the late 17th and early 18th centuries. Charts fundamental changes in the personnel and practices of newspapers in England and colonial North America, insisting on the transatlantic context of journalism during this period.

  • Dooley, Brendan, and Sabrina Baron, eds. The Politics of Information in Early Modern Europe. London and New York: Routledge, 2001.

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    An important collection of essays that emphasize the variety of forms in which news and political information circulated (in both manuscript and print) in the 16th and 17th centuries. There are four chapters on England, followed by overviews of the German-speaking lands, the Dutch Republic, the Habsburg Netherlands, Spain, France, the Italian states, and Scandinavia.

  • Pettegree, Andrew. The Invention of News: How the World Came to Know About Itself. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2014.

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    Spanning several centuries and countries, this book decenters the newspaper from a larger narrative about the different ways people have produced, marketed, distributed, and consumed news through the end of the 18th century.

  • Raymond, Joad, ed. The Oxford History of Popular Print Culture. Vol. 1, Cheap Print in Britain and Ireland to 1660. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2011.

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    In addition to the chapters on “News” and “Broadsides and Ballads,” this volume contains numerous essays that help situate news within the wider culture of print (both words and images) in early modern England and Ireland. Includes chapters on several European countries for the sake of comparison.

  • Slauter, Will. “The Paragraph as Information Technology: How News Traveled in the Eighteenth-Century Atlantic World.” Annales HSS 67.2 (April–June 2012): 253–278.

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    Originally published in French in 2012, this article explores how news evolved as it traveled from North America to England and then to the continent. Analyzes the paragraph as a unit of news that developed in the political and journalistic culture of 18th-century London. Available online.

  • Steele, Ian K. The English Atlantic, 1675–1740: An Exploration of Communication and Community. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1986.

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    This pioneering study of the infrastructure and modes of communication between England and its North American colonies provides essential information (such as shipping routes and delivery times, which varied by region) for understanding how news traveled across the Atlantic, whether in the form of private correspondence or printed newspapers.

  • Uribe-Uran, Victor M. “The Birth of a Public Sphere in Latin America during the Age of Revolution.” Comparative Studies in Society and History 42.2 (April 2000): 425–457.

    DOI: 10.1017/S0010417500002528Save Citation »Export Citation » Share Citation »

    Includes an overview of the development of the periodical press as part of a larger argument about the creation of the public sphere in Hispanophone and Lusophone America during the late 18th and early 19th centuries. Its conclusions about the role of printing are not universally shared (see Latin America).

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