Reading Publics, Prosopography, and Self-Fashioning on the Eve of the French Revolution by Prof. Elizabeth Bond

February 12, 2018
Thursday, March 1, 2018 - 4:00pm to 5:30pm
168 Dulles Hall
The Premodernist Group
This chapter of my book manuscript presents a prosopography of the men and women who penned letters to the editors of French newspapers in the thousands between 1770 and 1788. One of the most significant findings of my monograph is that those who penned letters to the editor formed an especially broad group, which surpassed the diversity of writers who published their thoughts in pamphlets or books. Indeed, in comparison to the scope of participants in previously studied spheres of Enlightenment sociability, like published writers, Masonic lodges, provincial Académies, or cafés, the forum of letters to the editor was exceptional in its social expansiveness.
 
Approximately half of the writers to newspapers signed their letters. Based on their signatures, I present a prosopography of the writers. Such a quantitative approach allows me to visualize the socially expansive nature of the reading and writing public. I also explore in this chapter the limits of such an approach as I evaluate how and why some of their correspondents wrote pseudonymously or anonymously.
 
Ultimately, this chapter both identifies letter writers as an especially large, diverse, and open sphere of Enlightenment sociability, and it explains how people who wrote letters to the editor used the exercise as a form of self-fashioning as amateur writers formulated public personae and tried out new ideas in the press.
 
 
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