Who reads yesterday’s papers? Andrew Pettegree, for one. And we should be grateful: The Invention of News is a valuable addition to our knowledge of European cultural history. It is also an ambitious book. Although Pettegree’s stated aim is to trace ‘the development of the European news market in the four centuries between about 1400 and 1800’, he covers much more, beginning with the imperial Roman postal service – Augustus was the first to regularise the practice of date-marking letters to prove when they had been dispatched – and taking us on a tour through the different communications networks available to medieval and early modern correspondents. Pilgrims and merchants trudge over snowy mountain passes with letters in their bags; diplomats send riders from far-flung outposts on the edge of Europe with dispatches marked ‘Haste! Haste!’; university students write home from Paris or Oxford (‘I’m working very hard – send money’ is the all-too-familiar refrain).
Pettegree sees commerce as the real driver of the emerging information networks that served merchants from Brussels to Bologna as they hungered for the latest news from the markets. By the 15th century dozens of trans-European courier services were established; regular handwritten newsletters, avvisi, kept dealers in Amsterdam and Augsburg