Date: 1 October 2010
'Curiosity and Reality', the title of an article by Sarah Barber in History Workshop Journal published this week, is a quote from a 17th-century hack describing two types of news. The article traces the differing uses of a single woodcut image, used to describe a news-event, over 350 years.
In the mid-17th century it appeared three times: relating an atrocity committed by Royalist Prince Rupert's French troopers in Somerset; the fears of Leicestershire people for the actions of Levellers, which did not in fact come to pass; and the fantasies entertained about the religious mystics, The Ranters, in York. In the 19th and 20th centuries the image was acquired by picture libraries, who subsequently sold its use to publishers, including those of several National Curriculum textbooks, in which, in the present day, asking 12-year olds to interpret the image opens up the debate about reportage and propaganda all over again. Dr Barber talked to students at the Royal Grammar School and surveyed all the schools in England and Wales which employed the image in their teaching.
Associated departments and research centres: History