U.S. Intellectual History Blog

The Newspaper in U.S. Intellectual History: Towards a Bibliography

Recently, a fellow historian posted a query on Twitter asking for reading suggestions on the history of the newspaper in America from (roughly) the Early Republic to the Cold War, and a few of us offered some suggestions. As it happens, I’m also working on the history of the newspaper as “the emblematic medium of modernity,” though I’m looking at the period from (roughly) the Cold War to the War on Terror, and I too could use some further reading suggestions.

So I thought it might be helpful to post here the bare beginnings of a bibliography and then invite readers to add titles that might prove useful for historians looking at the significance of the newspaper for any period of American intellectual history.

The Newspaper in U.S. Intellectual History

Gerald J. Baldasty, The Commercialization of News in the Nineteenth Century (Madison, WI: University of Wisconsin Press, 1992).

James L. Baughman, “Wounded but Not Slain: The Orderly Retreat of the American Newspaper,” in The Enduring Book: Print Culture in Postwar America, edited by David Paul Nord, Joan Shelley Rubin, and Michael Schudson, vol. 5, A History of the Book in America (Chapel Hill, NC: 2009):119-134.

Kevin G. Barnhurst and John Nerone, The Form of News: A History (New York, NY: The Guilford Press, 2001).

Marcus Daniel, Scandal and Civility: Journalism and the Birth of American Democracy (New York, NY: Oxford University Press, 2010).

Richard L. Kaplan, “From Partisanship to Professionalism: The Transformation of the Daily Press,” in Print in Motion: The Expansion of Publishing and Reading in the United States, edited by Carl F. Kaestle and Janice A. Radway, vol. 4, A History of the Book in America (Charlotte, NC: University of North Carolina Press, 2009):116-139.

Thomas C. Leonard, News for All: America’s Coming of Age with the Press (New York, NY: Oxford University Press, 1995).

John C. Nerone, Violence Against the Press: Policing the Public Sphere in U.S. History (New York, NY: Oxford University Press, 1994).

David Paul Nord, Communities of Journalism: A History of American Newspapers and Their Readers (Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press, 2001).

Jeffrey L. Pasley, The Tyranny of Printers: Newspaper Politics in the Early American Republic (Charlottesville and London: University Press of Virginia, 2002).

Michael Schudson, Discovering the News: A Social History of American Newspapers (New York, NY: Basic Books, 1978).

Michael Schudson, “Persistence of Vision: Partisan Journalism in the Mainstream Press,” in Print in Motion: The Expansion of Publishing and Reading in the United States, edited by Carl F. Kaestle and Janice A. Radway, vol. 4, A History of the Book in America (Charlotte, NC: University of North Carolina Press, 2009):140-151.

22 Thoughts on this Post

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  1. I’d add Michael McGerr’s The Decline of Popular Politics: The American North, 1865-1928, which contains an extended discussion of how the partisan and sensational presses shaped American political life in the late nineteenth century.

  2. This is such a great post—I would add Jeffrey Alexander’s *The Civil Sphere* which provides a wonderful theoretical framework for putting newspapers in an intellectual and cultural context.

  3. History isn’t my area, but two works I’ve found really useful in my own research:

    1. “Sentinel Under Siege” by Flink has some good era summary but I think it’s more synthesis than historical research. But has some really good deep dives on particular eras in journalism and what it meant for the development of a free press.

    2. “American Journalism: History, Principles, Practices,” edited book by Sloan and Parcell. Takes a historical approach but also splits it out by topical areas. I’ve used the Ethics chapter a lot in my own work.

  4. Apologies for the self-citation. My book “Tom Paine’s America: The Rise and Fall of Trans-Atlantic Radicalism in the Early American Republic” was an attempt to write a history of political ideas in the 1790s using newspapers (rather than the papers of the founders) as the primary source base. I drew much inspiration and guidance from the books cited above, especially Schudson and Pasley. I’d also add James Carey, Culture as Communication to the list of scholars who have thought about the relationship between newspapers and the history of ideas.

  5. And Andie Tucher’s “Froth and Scum: Truth, Beauty, Goodness, and the Ax Murder in America’s First Mass Medium,” a smart look at the intellectual, cultural, and social origins of the mass independent US press in the 1830s.

  6. Lisa Duggan’s “Sapphic Slashers: Sex, Violence, and American Modernity” (Duke Press, 2000) is a fascinating look at news media coverage and scholarly inquiries into the minds of woman on trial for murder and her murdered female lover in 1890s Memphis.

    Also, Joanne Meyerowitz’s “Beyond the Feminine Mystique: A Reassessment of Postwar Mass Culture, 1946-1958” in Bogle’s “The Cold War: V 5 The Culture of the Cold War” assesses Friedan in comparison to a large set of non-fiction articles from contemporary magazines. You’ll want to find this one at a library though, it retails on Amazon for about $250.

    The last suggestion I have is a thesis from my home institution. Nancy Eileen Brown’s 2013 “The 1901 Fort Wayne, Indiana City Election: A Political Dialogue of Ethnic Tension” is built around analyzing partisan newspaper coverage of a contentious ethnically charged local election and its fallout. Its a freebie: https://scholarworks.iupui.edu/handle/1805/3658

    Hope these are of use.

  7. Bill Mullen’s Popular Fronts: Chicago and African-American Cultural Politics, 1935-46 is excellent on the role of the Left and the black press in shaping the modern black freedom struggle.

  8. On19th century visual journalism: Joshua Brown, Beyond the Lines: Pictorial Reporting, Everyday Life, and the Crisis of Gilded Age America (University of California Press, 2002). It’s a goodie.

  9. Also, on the Latino front, there is obviously Raúl Coronado’s book, A World not to Come, and there are key chapters on 19th century U.S. Cuban newspapers in Rodrigo Lazo, Writing to Cuba Filibustering and Cuban Exiles in the United States.

  10. A few thoughts, LD:
    At the risk of stating the obvious, any history of the newspaper would probably want to think through Benedict Anderson’s take on the role of newspapers, among other mediums, in constructing the horizontal relations at the heart of nationalism in Imagined Communities.
    Other things: the relevant sections of Paul Starr’s The Creation of the Media.
    Charles Ponce De Leon, Self-Exposure: Human Interest Journalism and the Emergence of Celebrity in America, 1890-1940. (Maybe more about magazines in some ways, but useful for the larger context in which newspapers more and more have to operate in that era.)
    Books about particular newspapers, like Richard Kluger’s The Paper, about the NY Herald Tribune.

  11. Though not on newspapers per se, I would recommend Richard John, Spreading the News: The American Postal System from Franklin to Morse and Richard Brown, Knowledge is Power: The Diffusion of Information in Early America, 1700-1865. In both of them newspapers figure prominently. Also Simon Newman’s book Parades and the Politics of the Street, though not on newspapers uses primarily newspapers as its source material if I’m not mistaken.

    • Patrick, I was writing my comment below when yours posted here. Thanks, as always, for sharing your bibliographic resources with us here.

      For those of us who (like me) don’t have an academia.edu account, would you mind emailing me the .pdf? I would like to post it somewhere, either in Dropbox or on USIH servers, so that people can download it.

  12. Thanks all for the additional suggestions. This list really needs expanding in many directions — African American print culture, “foreign language”/ethnic presses, religious periodicals, and so forth.

    I appreciate the additions to the list that grapple with conceptualizing the newspaper as not a container of information but a particular, and particularly shaped, text. So a big yes to B. Anderson — he’s my go-to guy to make the connection between the form of the newspaper and the epistemic frame of the modern world. Not sure which comes first, to be honest — but I do think the newspaper is peculiarly emblematic of modernity, and “friendly” to it as well.

    Anyway, I really appreciate the thoughtful additions to this list, and I hope people will continue to add titles, suggestions. Once there’s a sustained lull in the comments, I’ll leave it set for a few weeks and then recompile the list with the additions included so that it’s easily downloaded/used.

  13. This is a fantastic list, LD. I’d add two things:

    1. A few years ago Jeff Pasley and I (along with a few others) started a Zotero group bibliography on Newspaper Politics in Early America, which has a number of titles: https://www.zotero.org/groups/newspaper_politics_in_early_america/items

    2. I don’t think anyone’s mentioned the series A History of the Book in America (5 vols. in total). Each has a number of essays on newspaper production, including some by the book authors you’ve mentioned above.

  14. Fine list and fine additions to it. I would suggest also a paper that looks at the character of US and UK journalism from a French perspective — Jean Chalaby, “Journalism as an Anglo-American Invention: A Comparison of the Development of French and Anglo-American Journalism, 1830s-1920s,” European Journal of Communication 11-3 (196) 303-326. A related paper that discusses the uniquely American institution of the news interview is Michael Schudson, “Question Authority: A History of the News Interview,” Media, Culture & Society 16 (October, 1994).

    • Thank you so much, Prof. Schudson. I am pretty sure we’d all gladly read anything you suggest on the subject; I’m happy to add these titles to the list.

  15. A very belated addition (and a self-citation no less), but for normative questions about the role of the press in democratic society (with an emphasis on 1940s’ debates like the Hutchins commission), my recent book might be of use:
    America’s Battle for Media Democracy: The Triumph of Corporate Libertarianism and the Future of Media Reform

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