When The News Was Sung: Ballads as News Media in Early Modern Europe

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McIlvenna, Una (2015)

News songs differ in crucial ways to the other news media of the early modern period like newsletters, newspapers, or diplomatic correspondence – they differ even from the prose broadsheets and pamphlets that they so closely resemble. As historians of news we need to ask different kinds of questions of these multi-media artifacts. For example, how does the presentation in a performative genre affect the dissemination and reception of information about events? What part do orality and aurality play in how the news was sold and received? Here the activities and social status of street singers play an important role. We must consider the production, format and distribution of these songs in order to understand their impact. We also need to pay attention to the conjunction between text and melody, and the ways in which this affected the presentation of a news event. On a broader scale, what kind of information can ballads provide about specific news events that other documents cannot or will not provide? Can they offer us a new medium by which to interpret historical events? And lastly, how should historians deal with these profoundly emotive texts? The combination of sensationalist language and affecting music meant that songs had the potential to provoke a more powerful response than any other contemporary news source, and this emotional potency can at times be challenging for a modern historian to decipher and explain. This article will attempt to answer some of these questions and suggest some of the skills we as historians need to develop in order to appreciate the full meaning of songs as the most popular of news media in early modern Europe.
  • References (5)

    39 Ein schönes Buß-Gesänglein/ Allen Menschen zu einer Auffmunterung/ eines guten Wandels unnd Lebens/ mercklich in Truck gebracht/ und für Augen gestellt.

    40 Sabean, Power in the Blood, 81.

    41 du Bartas, Cantique sur la victoire d'Yvry. 42

    43 Carrier a commencé la marche.

    44 Mason, Singing the French Revolution, 94-98.

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