An Index of Modernity: Narratives of Communications in the Late Seventeenth-Century English Atlantic
2012 Seminar Series / Thursday 31 May, 2012
Dr Konstantin Dierks (Indiana University) describes the shift in the latter half of the seventeenth century from an epistolary culture to a culture of ‘communications’. This conceptual transformation was brought about particularly by the British postal acts of 1657 and 1660 which saw the creation of the role of Postmaster General and a new infrastructure of communication comprised of reliable postal routes and a series of post offices which could be held to public account. Dierks argues that this new infrastructure was the result of a commercial rather than imperial vision in the first instance, but that it soon became very much linked to ideologies and discourses of modernity and empire as postal systems were developed in the Americas (Boston, Philadelphia, New York City and Jamaica) which were subject to the regulatory powers of the Postmaster General in London. He concludes that that, rather than the intellectuals and scientists of the Republic of Letters, it was the merchants and innovators who most affected government institutions by successfully articulating an ideology around the growing importance of conveying letters and goods. In other words, early modern business and enterprise trumped intellectual enquiry when it came to influencing decisions of state.