Pamphlets as artifacts

On a basic level, handling a piece of history dating back to the 1790s or earlier is awe-inspiring. These pamphlets were not necessarily intended to stand the test of time—they were printed and distributed rapidly, and much of the content addresses volatile events in contemporary politics. Through handling these documents, I have really gotten a sense of their importance as a medium for the continuous dissemination of information, misinformation, propaganda and political discourse. They include everything from personal defenses against libelous accusations (especially frequent—and dangerous—during the Reign of Terror) to the opinionated speeches of legislators who were not given floor time (as they often indignantly note on the first page) and took their words to press instead. There are biting satires of prominent figures, lyrics to patriotic songs, and elaborate justifications for the mounting political violence of the time period. These are supplemented and contextualized by the less striking but equally important pamphlets on taxation, legislation, mortgages, public finance, and more. Many of the pamphlets deal with highly specific subjects, what might even be called the minutiae of the French Revolution, but when taken together they form a more comprehensive picture of the time period.

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