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'Knowledge is Power' : The Diffusion of Information in Early America, 1700-1865 - Richard D. Brown

'Knowledge is Power'

The Diffusion of Information in Early America, 1700-1865

Paperback

Published: 5th September 1991
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Brown here explores America's first communications revolution--the revolution that made printed goods and public oratory widely available and, by means of the steamboat, railroad and telegraph, sharply accelerated the pace at which information travelled. He describes the day-to-day experiences of dozens of men and women, and in the process illuminates the social dimensions of this profound, far-reaching transformation. Brown begins in Massachusetts and Virginia in the early 18th century, when public information was the precious possession of the wealthy, learned, and powerful, who used it to reinforce political order and cultural unity. Employing diaries and letters to trace how information moved through society during seven generations, he explains that by the Civil War era, cultural unity had become a thing of the past. Assisted by advanced technology and an expanding economy, Americans had created a pluralistic information marketplace in which all forms of public communication--print, oratory, and public meetings--were competing for the attention of free men and women. Knowledge is Power provides fresh insights into the foundations of American pluralism and deepens our perspective on the character of public communications in the United States.

"Important contribution to our understanding."--American Literary History "Interesting and exceptionally well-designed book pioneers the study of information circulation, sharing, and usage among Americans between 1700 and 1865. Imaginatively organized."--Journal of the Early Republic "An extraordinary achievement....A major contribution to our understanding of cultural transmission is the brilliant, almost novelistic, intensity with which Brown has imagined and re-created the individual lives of the men and women he has studied."--New England Quarterly "Well-written, provocative, and informative."--Church History "Really an insightful collection of case studies showing how-in pre-mass media days, information got around....There is a good deal of insight here which meshes well with studies of early media diffusion."--Communication Booknotes "Important contribution to our understanding."--American Literary History "Interesting and exceptionally well-designed book pioneers the study of information circulation, sharing, and usage among Americans between 1700 and 1865. Imaginatively organized."--Journal of the Early Republic "An extraordinary achievement....A major contribution to our understanding of cultural transmission is the brilliant, almost novelistic, intensity with which Brown has imagined and re-created the individual lives of the men and women he has studied."--New England Quarterly "Well-written, provocative, and informative."--Church History "Really an insightful collection of case studies showing how-in pre-mass media days, information got around....There is a good deal of insight here which meshes well with studies of early media diffusion."--Communication Booknotes "An excellent piece of personal history....scholarly and readable....a singularly excellent text. The book is an immensely readable portrait of early Americans, the product of a writer in control of his material."--Journalism Quarterly "A truly significant contribution to our understanding of the development of public libraries in the United States....A splendid example of...the history of information and a major addition to that history, it deserves to become a part of the canon of library history....Well-organized and well-written...Worth reading for the information that it offers about how individual Americans gathered, disseminated, and used information in their daily lives....A major contribution to the history of informationa and, indirectly, to the history of librarianship."--Wilson Library Bulletin "Carefully researched and clearly written....An excellent book, a worthy addition to the growing literature on the history of the book in America and essential for anyone interested in early American culture from any perspective."--Early American Literature "With its fascinating presentation of complicated social webs around information control and diffusion, this is a useful and valuable book."--Journal of American History "A lively and intensely imaginative contribution....Brown's methodology is as bold as the rather audacious scope of his topic itself, and equally refreshing."--The Book "In Brown's hands, the information perspective becomes a fresh and revealing way of looking at social life....Written with grace and clarity. It has a deep command of its primary sources and a wide grasp of the secondary literature."--The Public Historian "Brown's study is an invaluable one for an age obsessed by technological wonders, for the history of the diffusion of information in America is one where cultural and economic changes are more important than merely transcending time and idstance."--Contemporary Sociology "Richard D. Brown's Knowledge Is Power is a pioneering work in American cultural history. Through scores of case-studies, from the colonial period through the Civil War, he investigates the various ways that information--i.e., knowledge--was transmitted from person to person, a topic whose importance to our understanding of American history cannot be overestimated. As we read this book we learn, among other things, what people read, why they wrote letters, to whom they spoke and why, what newspapers meant to them, and how they regarded public discourse. Brown's range is little short of astonishing, his writing engaging, and his subject one that has waited too long for its explicator. The book is bound to have a wide readership."--Philip F. Gura, University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill and Editor, Early American Literature "Deserves to become a standard."--Quarterly Journal of Speech "A book that will be read for enjoyment as well as instruction by both the scholar and the layman."--History "Keenly examined....Brown aims 'to delineate some of the ways in which information moved through society, in an attempt to discern who commanded what sort of knowledge, and with what kinds of social consequences.'"--American Literature "Brown has fashioned an impressive argument for the vitality of pre-Civil War northern popular culture....A valuable contribution to cultural history."--Choice "An engaging interpretation....Original and essential."--History of Education Quarterly "Knowledge Is Power opens up a new and important vein of social history. Richard Brown's imaginative case studies map with convincing precision the relationship between information and power, and between elite and popular culture."--David D. Hall, Harvard University What did colonial and early National Americans know and how did they know it? Brown answers these questions better than anyone else ever has, providing a down-to-earth, individual by individual view of what Americans experienced of the world of public information. "--Michael Schudson, University of California, San Diego "Information is an elemental dimension of society, yet one that has remained almost untouched by the historical imagination. Knowledge Is Power--a pathbreaking study of patterns of information use and distribution in early America--shows beyond doubt that historians must look afresh at this crucial axis of social life. A provocative and insightful synthesis."--Dan Schiller, UCLA "Brown's study of information exchange in early America will be most illuminating to literary as well as social historians."--Lawrence Buell, Oberlin College "Richard D. Brown asks novel questions and presents fascinating findings about the increasing impact of print culture and new modes of transportation and communication in the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries. He reads diaries and other documents in innovative ways and provides us with an important new perspective on American society in the crucial years of the early republic."--Mary Beth Norton, Cornell University "A wide-ranging and fascinating reexamination of familiar topics in early American history--class, community, education, family, gender, occupation, and politics--in unfamiliar roles as parts of the communications system."--Bruce Daniels, University of Winnipeg "Knowledge Is Power sets everything about early American culture in a new light. All the familiar themes take on new meaning when viewed as aspects of communication. Richard Brown's sensitive commentary on every form of communication from personal conversation to published books and newspapers makes us realize how the control and diffusion of information shapes both culture and social structure."--Richard L. Bushman, Columbia University "Knowledge Is Power is an excellent piece of work, imaginatively conceived, neatly researched, skillfully presented. Its publication could not be better timed. At a moment when conservative critics bewail a supposed decline of cultural literacy in the wake of expanding mass media, Richard Brown takes us back to the beginnings of the 'communications revolution' in the first half of the nineteenth century....As we deal with the accelerating movement of that revolution in our own time...[Brown] offers an important reminder that democracy advances by expanding knowledge among the people, not by curtailing it in the hands of a cultural elite."--Robert A. Gross, The College of William and Mary "Richard D. Brown's Knowledge Is Power is an excellent study of the social function of news, information, and knowledge from the late seventeenth century to 1950. By ingeniously linking diffusion to knowledge and flows of information to geographical setting, public position and social status of men and women, free and slave, we learn not only why people reacted so differently to political, economic, and other events but understand why individualism, choice, communalism, and competition are key concepts for explaining the transformation of early colonial societies into the mature republication society of mid-nineteenth-century America....This study not only offers a new and highly stimulating interpretation of colonial society, but a fresh and exciting new perspective on the age old question of the importance of the American Revolution for the emerging Republic."--Hermann Wellenreuther, Georg-August University, Gottingen, West Germany "Highly innovative....A superb example of the new cultural and political history, a modernized "histoire des mentalites."--Elise Marienstras, University of Paris 7 "Truly a valuable study....The research for this book is quite impressive....Insightful and penetrating....His writing style is creative....Brown has dared to be a pioneer, and he should be commended for a highly successful effort."--Social Science Quarterly "No other study provides us with such a clear view of the ways in which culture and mentality were constructed from the nuts and bolts or oral, written, and printed communication."--Reviews in American History "This exhilarating, swift-moving volume offers nothing less than a new way of looking at American history....This superb book can be enjoyed by the general reader and by college classes in its attractive paperback format."--Historical Journal of Massachusetts "Richard Brown makes clear in this insightful book that the mere development of information technology did not lead to an information explosion....`Society is held together by communication and information,' Samuel Johnson wrote in the 1770s in a passage quoted by Brown. Knowledge is Power shows us the importance of this assertion, and thus allows us to recognize the historical origins of our information revolution."--American Studies

Introductionp. 3
Information and Authority in Samuel Sewall's Boston, 1676-1729p. 16
William Byrd II and the Challenge of Rusticity Among the Tidewater Gentryp. 42
Rural Clergymen and the Communication Networks of 18th-Century New Englandp. 65
Lawyers, Public Office, and Communication Patterns in Provincial Massachusetts: The Early Careers of Robert Treat Paine and John Adams, 1749-1774p. 82
Communications and Commerce: Information Diffusion in Northern Ports from the 1760s to the 1790sp. 110
Information and Insularity: The Experiences of Yankee Farmers, 1711-1830p. 132
Daughters, Wives, Mothers: Domestic Roles and the Mastery of Affective Information, 1765-1865p. 160
William Bentley and the Ideal of Universal Information in the Englightened Republicp. 197
Choosing One's Fare: Northern Men in the 1840sp. 218
The Dynamics of Contagious Diffusion: The Battles of Lexington and Concord, George Washington's Death, and the Assassination of President Lincoln, 1775-1865p. 245
Conclusionp. 268
Appendixp. 297
Notesp. 303
Indexp. 363
Table of Contents provided by Syndetics. All Rights Reserved.

ISBN: 9780195072655
ISBN-10: 0195072650
Audience: Professional
Format: Paperback
Language: English
Number Of Pages: 384
Published: 5th September 1991
Publisher: Oxford University Press Inc
Country of Publication: US
Dimensions (cm): 23.44 x 15.62  x 2.46
Weight (kg): 0.64