Imagining Communities: The Glasgow Advertiser and the Kentucky Frontier, 1790-1800


45th Annual Conference of the British Society for Eighteenth-Century Studies.


8 January 2016


St Hugh’s College, Oxford, United Kingdom


At the end of the eighteenth-century, The Glasgow Advertiser was the epitome of scissors-and-paste journalism. Under the sole proprietorship of John Mennons, this eight-page, biweekly newspaper provided the denizens of Glasgow with news from throughout Europe and the far reaches of the British Empire – all for 3 ½ pence an issue. Like many other provincial presses in Great Britain, Mennons worked as the paper’s main reporter, editor, compositor and printer and obtained the majority of its non-local content from London newspapers, curating the selection of national, international and imperial intelligence that would most appeal to the local Glaswegian audience. In some cases, this meant a truncated version of a lengthy account; in others, one or several full articles from the same page were reprinted in full. These were supplemented by a small amount of original reporting, rumours acquired from the Trongate, lists of local prices and sequestrations and the occasional humorous anecdote.

With so much of the Advertiser’s content mere reproduction, and with limited local competition, it is difficult to glean more than a faint spectre of Glaswegian public opinion from the newspaper press. Indeed, by most scholarly accounts, the Advertiser, though ultimately successful, was a thoroughly dull publication. Yet, there is something more lies hidden just below the surface. Although Mennons refused to surrender the Advertiser‘s accounts to it new owner in 1802 – their contents remaining a mystery – his editorial practices, and many of the biases and assumptions that informed them, can be reconstructed by examining his more unusual curatorial choices.

In 1780 and 90s, the Ohio River Valley was engulfed in warfare between the fledgling United States and a confederacy of tribes, including the military astute Miami. Over the course of the decade, Mennons devoted a disproportionate level of coverage to these engagements, often leading to the inclusion of tangential and dubious linkages to other skirmishes between European, United States and Native American groups. Going well beyond his traditional sources of news content, Mennons demonstrated particularly interest and skill in weaving the story of the Little Turtle Wars to his Glaswegian readers, leaving clues as to his vision of the relationship between the Scots and the North American frontier. This paper will explore the digital methods behind reprinting mapping, the process which allows us to discover the unattributed sources that made up the Glasgow Advertiser‘s news content, and the means by which curation, the choices made by reprinting editors, can provide us with a nuanced and revealing understanding of scissors-and-paste men, whose voices, until recently, were thought irrevocably lost.





**Image Courtesy of Michael Coleman

Leave a Reply