Prestigious fellowship awarded to research the history of ‘business news’

Keele University’s Dr Siobhan Talbott has been awarded a prestigious Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC) Leadership Fellowship, to explore the history of ‘business news’ in the early modern northern Atlantic world.

The AHRC Leadership Fellows scheme provides funding for research leaders to undertake focused individual research alongside collaborative activities which have the potential to generate a transformative impact on their subject area and beyond.

Dr Talbott’s 18-month project, entitled Business News in the Atlantic World 1620-1763, will develop academic and public conceptions of business news, through exploring the ways in which business news in the early modern northern Atlantic world was created, distributed and received.

Dr Talbott, who is a Senior Lecturer in early modern History at Keele University, explains:

“The concept of ‘news’ is something that we are all familiar with, and in today’s society it exists in many forms. News as we recognise it began to emerge in the early modern period (1500-1800), bolstered by the proliferation, availability and affordability of printing. Previous studies of the history of news have emphasised the ‘print revolution’ as essential in explaining the emergence of a variety of news outlets, including the newspaper.

“However, although the rise of print encouraged the circulation of ‘public’ news, in terms of ‘business news’, which this project focuses on, early modern commercial agents continued to exchange information through private letters, oral conversation and communications networks. Manuscript forms of business news proliferated throughout the seventeenth century and beyond, despite the rise of print, in part because an increase in printed news led to conflicting data, issues of trust, and the need to deal with ‘bad’ or out-of-date information.”

The research project, which starts in September 2018, will look specifically at the information used by commercial agents to make their decisions. It will demonstrate the importance of understanding commercial and business news as a specific subtype of news, emphasising the importance of manuscript circulation, and it will show that the production, reception, and use of business news varied depending on the societal and cultural context in which it was made and circulated.

Dr Talbott continues:

“Understanding the strategies that previous generations adopted to share, customise, and profit from information will allow for intervention in public debates regarding freedom of the press, the role of consumers of news in circulating and producing news – a ‘communications circuit’ – and the tension between writing business news and the extent to which the audience can trust or understand it – ‘business literacy’. The fusions between these issues in the historical past and the way in which they relate to current debates on information overload and information anxiety – the consequences of living in an ‘information age’ – will be explored through this project.”