March 27, 2017 Leave a comment
It is not every day that you hear about a PhD student publishing a seminal bibliography and unlocking thousands of primary sources for a wider audience. However, in St Andrews, it just may happen! Arthur der Weduwen, a team member of the Universal Short Title Catalogue project at St Andrews supervised by Professor Andrew Pettegree, will publish a two-volume bibliography of seventeenth-century Dutch and Flemish newspapers this May.
Published by Brill as Dutch and Flemish Newspapers of the Seventeenth Century, 1618-1700, the bibliography contains detailed descriptions of 49 newspapers and more than 16,000 surviving issues. Each newspaper is prefaced with an introduction highlighting the publishers, printers, characteristics and lifespan of the paper. The bibliographical sections are preceded by a lengthy essay, ‘The rise of the newspaper’, which presents a chronological analysis of the development of the periodical press and an overview of the production and consumption of newspapers in seventeenth-century society. A major portion of this essay is based on Arthur’s M.Litt dissertation written for the Book History degree at St Andrews in 2015. In November 2016 Arthur received the prestigious Elsevier/Johan de Witt thesis prize for this dissertation at a ceremony in Utrecht.
Arthur started work on his bibliography during his M.Litt studies in Book History at St Andrews. Interested in the history of media, information and news, Arthur was inspired to start the bibliography after coming across an article by the English scholar G.C. Gibbs, who urged the completion of exactly such a task back in 1971. Some of the first printed newspapers appeared in Amsterdam and Antwerp, and the region would develop into one of the most competitive centres of the newspaper trade in Europe. Netherlandish publishers were true pioneers, responsible for some of the most notable features of newspaper publication, including the adoption of newspaper advertising.
While these papers played a fundamental role in the intellectual and political culture of the early modern Netherlands, no study has ever presented a comprehensive overview of the publication of these early newspapers.
The bibliography took Arthur across dozens of libraries and archives in Europe and the United States. Early newspapers have suffered a high rate of loss: close to two-thirds of all documented issues in Arthur’s bibliography survive only in a single copy. Many of these copies are often to be found outside the Low Countries, in Sweden, France, Germany, Russia and the United Kingdom, where they were collected and read by diplomats poring over the papers to assess public opinion in the Low Countries. Thanks to the development of digital resources and the goodwill of many librarians and friends, Arthur was able to access scans of thousands of issues in foreign institutions; altogether he personally inspected 98% of all surviving issues. While digital initiatives greatly assisted the compilation of the bibliography, Arthur most enjoyed searching through undocumented collections in libraries himself: such quests were particularly rewarding as they turned up four previously unknown titles, including the oldest newspapers published in Utrecht (1623) and Brussels (1621).
Overall, Arthur hopes that his bibliography will encourage other researchers to make as much use as possible of these fascinating documents, and that the study of news and newspapers will continue to evolve and inspire other scholars. He is especially grateful for the continuous support and generosity of the School of History at St Andrews and the Universal Short Title Catalogue project.
On Thursday 11 May, Arthur’s bibliography will be festively presented at the Amsterdam University Library. The presentation will be followed on 12 May by a symposium on the development of the newspaper in the Dutch Golden Age. For details about the event contact Arthur at firstname.lastname@example.org or Dr Helmer Helmers at email@example.com