chapter  1
Newspapers, the Early Modern Public Sphere and the 1704–5 Worcester Affair
Pages 12

In recent decades, historians have shown great interest in the means by which growing numbers of people were able to engage with politics in the early modern era. Since 1989, many have employed the term ‘public sphere’ to provide an interpretive framework for the examination of this expansion in the public nature of politics. As Brian Cowan has observed, the 1989 translation of Jürgen Habermas’s work on the bürgerliche Ö entlichkeit arrived in the Englishspeaking historical world at a post-Namierite moment when historians needed a way to integrate old work on elite politics with new work on popular and extra-institutional political activities. With the rapid rise of the ‘public sphere’ as an analytical term, however, came criticism of Habermas’s account of the ‘bourgeois public sphere’ and empiricist fears that pervasive associations of the ‘public sphere’ with rationality, progress and liberal democracy would encourage teleological analysis.1 In what Cowan has called a ‘post-Habermasian’ phase, some scholars have suggested that the ‘public sphere’ be jettisoned in favour of more historicized terminology. Joad Raymond has called for ‘a new model of something like a public sphere , built upon the categories of the actors who participated in it’ and Alasdair Ra e has chosen to write of a ‘culture of controversy’ rather than the public sphere in relation to religious debates in early modern Scotland.2 For some political historians, however, the term remains useful as a shorthand for public modes of interaction between governors and the governed in particular times and places. us Peter Lake and Steven Pincus have outlined phases of development in the English early modern public sphere and Bjorn Weiler has used the term to encompass political communications in thirteenthcentury England and Germany.3