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Poetry and the Police: Communication Networks in Eighteenth-Century Parisby Robert Darnton
Synopses & Reviews
Listen to "An Electronic Cabaret: Paris Street Songs, 1748-50" for songs from Poetry and the Police Audio recording copyright © 2010 by the President and Fellows of Harvard College. All rights reserved.
In spring 1749, François Bonis, a medical student in Paris, found himself unexpectedly hauled off to the Bastille for distributing an "abominable poem about the king." So began the Affair of the Fourteen, a police crackdown on ordinary citizens for unauthorized poetry recitals. Why was the official response to these poems so intense?
In this captivating book, Robert Darnton follows the poems as they passed through several media: copied on scraps of paper, dictated from one person to another, memorized and declaimed to an audience. But the most effective dispersal occurred through music, when poems were sung to familiar tunes. Lyrics often referred to current events or revealed popular attitudes toward the royal court. The songs provided a running commentary on public affairs, and Darnton brilliantly traces how the lyrics fit into song cycles that carried messages through the streets of Paris during a period of rising discontent. He uncovers a complex communication network, illuminating the way information circulated in a semi-literate society.
This lucid and entertaining book reminds us of both the importance of oral exchanges in the history of communication and the power of "viral" networks long before our internet age.
Book News Annotation:
Darnton (director, University Library, Harvard U.) offers this fascinating look at social communication networks in Paris during the mid 1700s. Poetry was often used as a means of broadcasting social and political information during this era and many poets were prosecuted for transmitting negative information about the French monarchy. Due to the relative lack of literacy at the time, poems were most effectively employed as songs memorized by the people and passed along, thus producing a powerful social network for the time. This book provides an interesting look at the history of information transmission and will be of interest to those studying communication. Annotation ©2011 Book News, Inc., Portland, OR (booknews.com)
Robert Darnton is a 2011 National Humanities Medal Winner
About the Author
Robert Darntonis Carl H. Pforzheimer University Professor, <>Harvard University, and Director of the <>University Library, Harvard University.
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History and Social Science » Europe » France » 18th Century and Revolutionary