On the relevance of the humanities: Book History

"Whilst technology allows us to gather and share information ever more swiftly, it’s also taken production away from organisations that had name recognition and in which people could trust."

Sarah Barker explains that mistrust in news and media goes back further than we often think.

"Fake news is all around us, or at least we think it is. A recent UK parliamentary select committee on ‘Disinformation and Fake News’ saw nearly one hundred different pieces of evidence submitted, from academics, media groups, prominent individuals, and local activists. Who decides what news is fake? Some news is categorised as ‘fake’ because it upsets readers – often it’s not that the information being shared is itself wrong or inaccurate, but rather that commentators argue that it isn’t really news at all. In other instances, news is called out for being ‘fake’ because producers are understood to have purposefully misled their audiences by emphasising or leaving out key information. There are innumerable examples of people sharing stories via social media channels only to discover that they’ve been duped. In the West, this has gone hand in hand with concerns about how the sharing of such information has impacted democratic processes, hence the UK government’s interest."

"Whilst technology allows us to gather and share information ever more swiftly, it’s also taken production away from organisations that had name recognition and in which people could trust. Early modern book producers creating the first news prints faced a similar challenge – in a world where news was mainly exchanged orally, or by manuscript letters sent from people or organisations that recipients trusted, what were people to make of pamphlets that came with no such obvious markers of confidence? Book producers used a range of methods to give their readers confidence in the contents of their works, from highlighting of the names of key subjects and places, paratexts explaining how and why news pamphlets had been produced and lists of potential witnesses who could confirrm the events described. Then, as now, however, sensation sold, and getting the balance between truth, opinion and commercially viable stories was extremely challenging."