Although we usually think of newspapers and books
as being the main products of printing, there are many other types
of texts that are part of print culture. Americans in the Revolutionary
era exploited every possible mode of print to persuade readers
to support their cause. As Bernard Bailyn explains in The
Ideological Origins of the American Revolution:
Whatever deficiencies the leaders of the American Revolution
may have had, reticence, fortunately, was not one of them.
They wrote easily and amply, and turned out in the space of
scarcely a decade and a half and from a small number of presses
a rich literature of theory, argument, opinion, and polemic.
Every medium of written expression was put to use. The newspapers,
of which by 175 there were thirty-eight in the mainland colonies,
were crowded with columns of arguments and counter-arguments
appearing as letters, official documents, extracts of speeches,
and sermons. Broadsides -- single sheets on which were often
printed not only large-letter notices but, in three or four
columns of miniscule type, essays of several thousand words
-- appeared everywhere; they could be found posted or passing
from hand to hand in the towns of every colony. Almanacs,
workaday publications usually available in the colonies, carried,
in odd corners and occasional columns, a considerable freight
of political comment. Above all, there were pamphlets: booklets
consisting of a few printer's sheets, folded in various ways
so as to make various sizes and numbers of pages, and sold
-- the pages stitched together loosely, unbound and uncovered
-- usually for a shilling or two.
[The Ideological Origins of the American Revolution,
Enlarged Edition, Bernard Bailyn, (The Belknap Press of Harvard
University Press: Cambridge, 1992), 1-2.]
Among the most typical modes of communication in
1770's America were letters, sermons, speeches and meetings, pamphlets,
broadsides, newspapers, and magazines. A person in the 1770s might
well have read broadsides and pamphlets regularly. That same person
might periodically participate in discussions at civic meetings,
and listen to or even deliver a speech.
in Which Disseminated
|Either read/delivered orally from manuscript
notes or text, or done extemporaneously. Typically, most Puritan
divines would speak from prepared text, while clergy of other
sects and particularly Evangelicals would be more likely to
speak extemporaneously. Many political speeches delivered at
assemblies and other meetings would have been extemporaneous,
but it depended to some extent on the situation and the speaker.
Notes on sermons and other speeches were sometimes outlined
by hand by listeners into notebooks used for those purposes.
Speeches were sometimes passed on by word-of-mouth and through
Sometimes published in newspapers, almanacs, broadsides,
pamphlets; and/or books.
|Read aloud by rider (for example, Paul Revere on his famous
ride), by town crier, or by leaders to members of a group (for
example, from general to army.) For an example, look at this
description of how Standing Orders were circulated in the Revolutionary
|Informal oral exchanges of information and ideas among friends
or acquaintances at home or on visits to friends, businesses,
church, and taverns. Taverns were one place at which people
were sometimes able to converse with travelers from outside
their own areas.
|Letters to family, friends, and other acquaintances made it
possible for people to exchange information from one area to
another. It was quite possible to exchange letters with people
in England because ships carried mail as well as passengers
(who also carried mail). Letters sometimes includes notes or
copies of printed material such as pamphlets or newspapers.
|A person sometimes invited another individual to start up
a formal correspondence on a particular topic as a way of exchanging
information and views.
During the revolutionary era, many communities set up "committees
of correspondence" in order to promote a regular exchange
of information Letters sent to and from these committees may
have been read aloud at gatherings and were often printed
and disseminated in newspapers and in broadside form. The
Report of the Committee of Correspondence to the Boston Town
Meeting. November 20, 1772 Sometimes a "committee
of correspondence" would issue a broadside in order to
communicate with a particular body of people, such as "Pilots"
or "Mechanics." Look at this broadside
authored by a Mechanic adressing a different class of
Meeting Reports and
Diaries, Ledgers. Commonplace Books,
Contracts, Wills, Etc.
|Although pamphlets are, in one sense, a format in which many
different types of material were eventually circulated, some
compositions were designed particularly to function as pamphlets,
in the fashion modeled in the "pamphlet wars" that
were waged in England during the civil wars there or during
other religious and/or civic controversies.
|Could be presented orally by salesperson,
in image and/or print form on sign,
in image and/or print form on broadside,
almanac or newspaper. One example: newspaper mastheads.
Depictions of People, Places,
Sometimes sketched by individuals into personal diaries,
notebooks, and almanacs.
Sometimes printed on broadsides, and in pamphlets, almanacs,
newspapers, and books. One good example is Revere's "Boston
||Sometimes circulated on currency, flags, seals on official
documents, coats of arms, and/or printed as broadsides, in newspapers,
and incorporated into pamphlets and books usually as part of
frontispiece or title page.
||Could be composed by a printer or other individual and circulated
in the form of a broadside, or could develop as individuals
and groups modified the lyrics of a familiar song to suit a
new situation. Sometimes songs which arose from the streets
was then printed as broadside.
So What? Imagine . . .
The movement of ideas from one mode to another --
from a speech to a letter to a broadside, to a meeting, to a formal
motion written into a document, to a newspaper article, to speeches,
to letters, to broadsides, to meetings and speeches, to newspaper
articles and so forth -- allowed for the development of new ideas
and methods of persuasion.
Imagine the following scenario that took place repeatedly
(although not in exactly this form) in the 1770s. A minister
in New Hampshire might have delivered a sermon that moved a parishioner
to write a letter to a friend in Maryland that prompted the recipient
to publish a pamphlet which was reprinted in Connecticut where
it inspired a reader to circulate a broadside announcing a meeting
where a speech was given that was recounted in a newspaper mailed
to Virginia and reprinted as a broadside that was read aloud among
a group of people who then wrote a letter to their representatives
in the Continental Congress and that incited the delegates to
make speeches initiating a debate in that body that led to the
drafting a document to be sent to the British. . . and so on and
on and on. It would be impossible to follow this sequence of transfers
because inherent in this concept is the idea that it is a circuit.
The communication -- the civic conversation -- never ends.
What's Happening In This Picture?
An image of "Rhetorica" From Margarita Philosophia,
Note the way this emblem acknowledges the interconnectedness
of various sources of ideas and information.
See the Communication Circuit in Action:
Look at One Document
Sometimes we can see how the communications circuit
worked in eighteenth century America by examining a single document.
If you look closely at the broadside below, you will note that
an event has been translated into a body of information and ideas
put into the form of a letter. You should be able to trace this
single sheet of print documents the way that set of information
and ideas has been passed along from one person or group to another.
You should also be able to identify some of the many forms of
communication that are used in the transmission of this material;
in the course of the progression of this particular set of information
and ideas, letters, verbal conversations, scribal transcriptions,
meetings, and print are involved. And what series of communications
do you think the printing of this broadside might have initiated?
This broadside demonstrates one way print was used to
disseminate information during the Revolutionary period.
However, print was not the only means of circulating
information and ideas. Examine this artifact to identify
other forms of communication that are embedded within this
To read the document, you should choose to view a medium
or large version
of the image. To read the text, click here.
Look at the links below and see if you can find examples of
the movement between oral, scribal, and printed culture. Can you
explain why spoken things might have been printed?
of the Continental Congress for Thursday, May 11, 1775
Isaac Bickerstaff Predictions
How an early eighteenth century London almanac led to the printing
of a broadside, a pamphlet, and another pamphlet in response.
A good example of the eighteenth century communications circuit
Here's an example of how
the words of John Dickinson, author of Letters of a Farmer, became
the lyrics of "The Liberty Song"
Literacy and Power: To 1900 -- A course page for University
of California, Berkeley, InfoSys 182AC, Spring 2002 by Mary Kay
Duggan, Information Management and Systems. Includes a collection
of images of oral and print culture as well as links to useful
databases of maps, texts, and other resources.
Pamphlets; Periodicals; Broadsides; Prints--Communications HistoryPrinters'
Cary Collection An archive that offers an online collection
of materials related to the history of print. Most of the resources
Resources by Category
Printers and Printing
Moxon. Mechanick Exercises. London, 1683. A description
of a book that offered explanations of the tools and work of
the printer. The Exercises were reprinted in America in 1896.
For other notes on this work, see: http://www.anvilfire.com/bookrev/pawpaw/moxon.htm
and Occult Uses of Astrology in Colonial America
Describes the role of astronomy -- and almanacs -- in early
America. Includes a page on the History
Early American Almanac
Selected pages from "The Astronomical Diary and Almanac"
from Poor Richards Almanac, 1753
British Merlin, London: 1701
Although this exhibit from Glasgow University describes the
evolution of almanacs from the sixteenth century and focuses
on one English example, the site provides a very helpful explanation
of early almanacs and their uses.
and Calendars Page at the Lily Library
Another site on English almanacs with a clear description of
their purpose and design.
Tell Us More Than the Weather: Eighteenth Century American Almanacs
An exhibition checklist from the UCLA Library's Special Collections
Changes in the Farmer's Almanac
Newspaper Library Web Catalogue The British Library Newspaper
History of the British Newspaper The British Library Newspaper
The History of Printing
Part II Journalism Index
pages from an unidentified Boston newspaper for the week of
July 4, 1776
at the Colonial Records Project of the North Carolina Office
of Archives and History
of Broadsides at William and Mary
The Massachusetts Historical Society The Collection Broadsides
Women's Suffrage Broadsides
Magic Lantern Broadsides (Including Light and Dark in Big City)
Broadsides at AAS
An American Time Capsule Three Centuries of Broadsides and Other
Yesterday's News Broadsides Exhibit at the Folger