The More Things Change, the More they Stay the Same
Is it just me, or lately does it seems as though we’re being bombarded with news? When I check my email, yahoo is flashing headlines with links to longer stories; I find bits of the newspaper strewn throughout the common areas of the office; my retired parents telephone frequently in near-panic over the stock market; and the phalanx of television sets at my gym distract with disturbing, high-def images of the follies and tragedies of current events.
Feeling overwhelmed with media the other day, I decided to give my eyes and ears and brain a bit of a break by sitting and reading a novel. Returning to the “old fashioned” printed word made me think about how important printed words are–and have been–since the invention of the printing press in the mid 15th century. We have so many outlets to receive (with or without choice) news and information, but in past history, the printed word was the primary vehicle for disseminating news and current events.
Antique printed news notices are called “broadsides” by collectors. In a way, a broadside can be considered an antique form of a tweet, a blog, or an email newsletter: it was intended to spread the word about something to the widest audience possible, in as expedient a manner possible. Broadsides were also intended to be printed quickly and efficiently, in order to keep news as fresh as possible.
A printer would set type and print the information on a piece of paper. Then the broadside would be rushed out of the print shop and delivered to important town officials, who would then spread the word. Or, the broadside would be posted in a high traffic area of town, such as a town hall or market doorway.
Because of the transient nature of antique broadsides—they were printed on humble paper that wasn’t meant to last long—broadsides can sometimes be rare survivors, much sought after by paper ephemera and Americana collectors.
Broadsides sold by Skinner in November 2010 at a Fine Books & Manuscripts auction
People are People, No Matter the Century
Not all news has to be bad, and that’s a good thing to remember. In the midst of economic fluctuations, environmental woes, political farce, riots, and drought, it’s difficult sometimes, but I always try to find news about something good. The discovery of an historic document like one of these always brightens my day. Sure, it’s dorky, and far less important than flooding and famine, but knowing that an historic broadside has been discovered and preserved for the future is a little bright spot in my life of unabashed geekdom.
Broadsides remind us that even when we’re unplugged, we can still learn, and still find out what’s going on. They remind us that people are people, and we’re all in this together, dealing with some of the same woes as people 100, 200, even 300 years ago. And they can also remind us that not all news has to be bad.