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Spring 2022 Ducharme Lecture

Rebecca McDermott, C'20
Graduate Student, College of Liberal Arts

Does Partisan News Destroy Democracy? An Historical Investigation

Jamie GianoutsosIn today’s hyper-politicized climate, one can often learn people’s political leanings by discovering which news networks they tune in to.  Journalists play a pivotal role informing citizens and holding politicians accountable, but many wonder how partisan newspapers and networks impact democratic societies. Associate Professor of History Jamie Gianoutsos, Ph.D., will explore this question in this spring’s Ducharme Lecture, entitled “Does Partisan News Destroy Democracy?” Gianoutsos will examine the role that the development of news played in the English Revolution of 1649 and its preceding civil wars.  In doing so, she will show that partisan news has a long history.    

 A highly respected historian, Gianoutsos has a rich and diverse academic background. She graduated with a BA in Political Science and Great Texts of the Western Tradition from Baylor University in Texas.  In 2007, she received her MA in English from the Queen’s University in Belfast, Northern Ireland, and the following year she acquired an MPhil in Political Thought and Intellectual History from the University of Cambridge in England.  In 2014 she earned a Ph.D. in History from the John Hopkins University in Baltimore, Maryland.  Since that time, Gianoutsos has shared her historical expertise with Mount students in core classes, as well as courses such as The French Revolution, Tudor and Stuart Britain, The Politics of Gender in Early Modern Europe, History of Republican Thought, and a history Senior Seminar classHaving been awarded the prestigious Marshall Scholarship herself, Gianoutsos now serves as the Director of the Mount’s Office of Competitive Fellowships, a position she has held since 2016, and has helped numerous students win national awards and grants.  Last year, the University of Cambridge Press released her book, The Rule of Manhood: Tyranny, Gender, and Classical Republicanism in England, 1603–1660, which recently received the Istvan Hont Prize as the year’s Best Book in Intellectual History.  

One figure that Gianoutsos began researching for her first book and has continued studying for her new project is Marchamont Nedham, a pioneer in journalism who is often credited as “father of the modern newspaper.” She explained, “I have spent the past several months in the archives at the Library of Congress viewing all of Nedham’s early newspapers as well as newspapers from 1640s and 1650s England.  I ended up reading all 130 weekly issues of Nedham’s first news serial, Mercurius Britannicus, and became fascinated with the early news environment in which he was operating during England’s first civil war.”  From this research, Gianoutsos began to focus on a broader project about the relationship between the development of news and the development of republican thought in the English Revolution and beyond.  Her work raises questions such as: “how did newspapers shape ideas about government by and for the people?” and “how did these ideas shape the creation of newspapers?”

The Ducharme Lecture will explore the highly partisan environment of the English civil wars and how the newspaper played a role in that partisanship. Gianoutsos intends to argue that “the newspaper itself helped to fuel the civil wars and was at the same time partly responsible for the creation of a more democratic system in England.”  She hopes to explain how news was pivotal in “both theorizing and forming engaged citizens who can participate in the political process and hold their government responsible.” She observed that newspapers contested the arcana imperii, the idea that governments should not be transparent and should not be scrutinized by common citizens. Gianoutsos stated that many printers in the 1640s challenged this status quo by embracing provocative journalism.  “The standard of ‘impartial’ news reporting was a much later invention,” she noted.

By looking at partisan news through the lens of 1640s England, Gianoutsos hopes that the past can offer solutions to today’s problems. “Every single semester, the Ducharme Lecture Series provides an opportunity for our academic community to engage with challenging ideas,” she said.  As we navigate a world that is influenced by the current media landscape, Gianoutsos hopes that her research will provide a moment of reflection for the Mount community.  Engaging an audience from across the academic and political spectrum, the historian hopes that her presentation “can help all of us consider the ways we can responsibly consume the news as engaged citizens in a hyper-polarized nation.”

The Spring Ducharme Lecture will take place on Wednesday, March 16th at 4 p.m. in the Knott Auditorium.  Offered each semester, the lecture is made possible by a generous gift from Mount alum and Board Member Raphael Della Ratta (’92).

Rebecca McDermott, C'20
Graduate Student, College of Liberal Arts