Constance Bantman, Ana Cláudia Suriani da Silva, eds. The Foreign Political Press in Nineteenth-Century London: Politics from a Distance. London and New York: Bloomsbury Academic, 2018. 240 pages. ISBN 978-1-4742-5851-7.
Reviewed by Andrew Tompkins (Drew University)
Published on Jhistory (January, 2019)
Commissioned by Robert A. Rabe
The nineteenth-century was a period of ardent political passions. From the turbulent European revolutions of 1848-49 to the stirrings of violent insurrection aimed at the Russian tsar to burgeoning nationalist sentiments in colonial provinces, novel attempts to reimagine various social landscapes surfaced around the globe. As these movements and their adherents nearly always threatened long-standing political and economic institutions, most of them experienced mounting suppression at home. Often fearing for their lives, many of these thinkers, commentators, and revolutionaries were forced to flee. The city of London came to offer radical publishers in particular a safe haven during the long nineteenth century and beyond. The histories of many of these figures and their respective publications are expertly portrayed in Constance Bantman’s and Ana Cláudia Suriani da Silva’s volume, The Foreign Political Press in Nineteenth-Century London.
Scholarship concerning nineteenth-century transnational political publishing has only appeared over the previous twenty years. Earlier texts in this academic vein include Hannah Barker and Simon Burrows, eds., Press, Politics, and the Public Sphere in Europe and North America, 1760-1820 (2002), Sabine Freitag, ed., Exiles from European Revolutions: Refugees in Mid-Victorian England (2003), and Andrew King, Alexis Easley, and John Morton, eds., The Routledge Handbook to Nineteenth-Century British Periodicals and Newspapers (2016). Bantman contends in the book's introduction that while works such as these broadly consider exilic activist publishing, they often lack “a detailed analysis of [its] role in daily life in politics,” and they likewise do not consider these movements “from a comparative focus” (p. 1). Therefore, although these texts laid the foundation for this volume in some respects, they more importantly opened new conduits by which to explore the largely marginalized émigré communities themselves from this politically charged century.
Why did London specifically emerge as such a hub for these writers during the nineteenth century? Bantman suggests that this occurred following the Napoleonic wars, when the British government began rolling back a number of libel and censorship laws. In due course, she notes, the nation’s “press was perceived as a means of protection against governmental oppression, with a key mission to educate and enlighten people in political matters” (p. 3). The cosmopolitan character of London, moreover, provided distinctive logistical attractions, as it “offered technical skill, the availability of foreign typesets as well as access to diffusion networks; it also allowed editors to establish an audience” (p. 2). London therefore appealed to a wide array of transnational political movements, and to both revolutionary nationals in transit and expatriates and exiles representative of wider ideological diasporas. In this sense, Bantman’s and da Silva’s compilation does exceptionally well to provide their readers with a wide breadth of these affinities, and it is also highly representative of the many locales that these figures and groups came from, in both time and space.
The volume’s depiction of eclectic political groups and philosophies serves as one of its most substantive strengths. Thomas Jones and Bantman list some of these groups in their chapter, “From Republicanism to Anarchism: 50 Years of French Exilic Newspaper Publishing,” by noting that “London’s relatively liberal atmosphere proved a boon as revolutionary upheavals, reactionary backlashes, war and the development of repression of new schools of revolutionary thought sent a succession of radical republicans, socialists, democrats, and anarchists to London” (p. 91). Though transnational publications from anarchists, republicans, and Marxists certainly play prominent roles throughout this compilation, it is its examination of high-stakes nationalist movements that appears as a particularly striking feature.
Two essays that shine in this regard are Karen Racine’s “Newsprint Nations: Spanish American Publishing in London, 1808-1827,” and Ole Birk Laursen’s “The Indian Nationalist Press in London, 1865-1914.” Racine shows how London-based Spanish American periodicals such as La Biblioteca Americana and El Repertorio Americano disseminated and established national identity concepts throughout many Central and South American colonies. She contends that these revolutionaries-in-exile used London’s press outlets to conceptually establish “what their not-yet-independent countries had been and what they were intended to become” (p. 15). Laursen’s chapter likewise skillfully demonstrates how India’s nascent nationalist movements emerged beginning in the late nineteenth century via comparable progressive political pipelines. Though the British colonial administration strictly prohibited such periodicals in India, Laursen shows that London circulars like The Indian Sociologist and India established “a platform from where colonial discourse was challenged and anti-colonial resistances were articulated” (p. 188). Both articles reveal that Britain’s liberal publishing milieu paradoxically allowed these editors to challenge European colonialism broadly as well as specific institutions that intersected with the nation’s own interests abroad.
In addition to the breadth of ideologies examined, this work also cogently exhibits how culturally diverse these exilic communities were. No two chapters focus on transnational cadres from the same geographic area or nation-state. Whether scrutinizing the social ambitions and tactics of the postunification Italian anarchist press, as in Pierto Di Paola’s “The Italian Anarchist Press in London,” or describing the displaced republican Portuguese publishing communities of the early part of the century, as in Daniel Alves’s and Paulo Jorge Fernandes’s “The Press as a Reflection of the Divisions among the Portuguese Exiles,” for instance, the volume successfully captures the vast plurality of these associations.
A third distinction, and indeed an editorial triumph on the part of Bantman and da Silva, is in the major political personalities examined by the work’s contributors. Though certainly every chapter examines individual editors and their roles in their corresponding movements to one degree or another, two place specific figures under a more finely focused microscope. The first of these concerns the Brazilian revolutionary journalist Hipólito da Costa, who is found in Isabel Lustosa’s and Cláudia da Silva’s chapter on da Costa’s London-based periodical, Correio Braziliense ou Armazém Literário. Through illuminating his lucrative Freemason connections and his determined sense of nationalism, Lustosa and da Silva paint an intricate picture of a man whose fundamental life ambition was to “help Brazil [improve] and progress under a system of government like that of Britain” (p. 68). Charlotte Alston brings a similar degree of scholarly detail to the life of the so-called father of Russian socialism and anti-Tsarist ideologue editor Alexander Herzen in her chapter, “News of the Struggle: The Russian Political Press in London, 1853-1921.” Though not delving as deeply into Herzen’s personal background as the da Costa chapter does, Alston expertly draws a well-defined genealogy of Russian émigré publishing communities that he inspired, beginning with his multi-city-based Free Russian Press. Both scholars humanize the movements that these editors cultivated, sanctioned, or influenced, and, in doing so, they provide richer accounts of the respective publications themselves. Between the breadth of ideologies considered, multicultural groups covered, and key personalities examined, The Foreign Political Press in Nineteenth-Century London provides interested readers with an accomplished study that reframes the history of transnational political publishing.
However, as the field of diasporic journalism is still emerging, Bantman’s and da Silva’s compilation also exposes gaps that demand consideration in future studies. In her introduction, Bantman notes a few these. One concerns the scope of topics and themes not addressed in this collection. Some of these “unevenly represented” spaces include “London’s Jewish press,” “discourses on anti-slavery,” feminist/suffragist activism, war, [and] decolonization.” Moreover, as to the print medium considered, this volume nearly exclusively explores the history of periodicals, both long-established and fleeting. This “slightly truncated view” as Bantman notes, overlooks analogous “book and pamphlet” publications from the time, which likewise opens additional avenues of inquiry (p. 12).
Regardless of what future studies can provide, the potential benefits of this work for any number of audiences are myriad. Its chapters can easily be incorporated into numerous college courses on journalism, anticolonial or revolutionary studies, or the history of nineteenth-century radicalism, to name a few. It can furthermore offer academics in journalism history a suitable historiographical reference point from which to examine shifting patterns in global exilic movements throughout the modern era. Thus, as the scholarship of transnational political publishing continues to unfold, Bantman’s and da Silva’s volume will likely, and certainly should, stand as a model contribution for the discipline.
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Andrew Tompkins. Review of Bantman, Constance; Silva, Ana Cláudia Suriani da, eds., The Foreign Political Press in Nineteenth-Century London: Politics from a Distance.
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