The Social History of Skepticism: Experience and Doubt in Early Modern Culture

The Social History of Skepticism: Experience and Doubt in Early Modern Culture

by Brendan Dooley
     
 

Do new information technologies always produce progress and enlightenment? No, at least not according to observers in seventeenth-century Europe. As Brendan Dooley demonstrates in The Social History of Skepticism, the transformation of information about present and past politics into a saleable product, whether in the form of commissioned histories or in the form

Overview

Do new information technologies always produce progress and enlightenment? No, at least not according to observers in seventeenth-century Europe. As Brendan Dooley demonstrates in The Social History of Skepticism, the transformation of information about present and past politics into a saleable product, whether in the form of commissioned histories or in the form of journalism, turned writers into speculators, information into opinion, and readers into critics. The result was a powerful current of skepticism with extraordinary consequences. Combined with late-seventeenth-century developments in other areas of thought and writing, it produced skepticism about the possibility of gaining any historical knowledge at all.

Joining the history of ideas to the history of journalism and publishing, Dooley sets out to discover when early modern people believed their political informants and when they did not. He examines some of those who got the information first: the manuscript gossip writers of Rome and Venice. He then considers the writers of printed gazettes, who bought their own information or else received it from those in power. He explores historians, both of independent means and employed by governments, and the episodes — political, social, and cultural — that caused them to write. He also examines the readers who knew better than what they read and the cultural critics, such as Pierre Bayle, who bemoaned the politicization of truth. The skeptical outcome, he shows, helped bring about a historiographical reform movement that introduced theories and techniques still in use today for discovering the past.

Editorial Reviews

Booknews
Dooley (history, Harvard U.) argues that the impact of new information technology in the 17th century produced, not progress and enlightenment, but a skepticism that grew into doubt about the possibility of gaining any historical knowledge whatsoever. He describes how commissioned histories and journalism transformed information about past and present politics into a saleable product, writers into speculators, analysis into opinion, and readers into critics. He indexes only names. Annotation c. Book News, Inc., Portland, OR (booknews.com)

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780801861420
Publisher:
Johns Hopkins University Press
Publication date:
07/28/1999
Series:
Johns Hopkins University Studies in Historical and Political Science Series, #117
Pages:
224
Product dimensions:
6.35(w) x 9.32(h) x 0.82(d)

What People are saying about this

Jacob Soll

The Social History of Skepticism sheds light on unknown facets of seventeenth-century political culture and shows that the cultural origins of the Enlightenment reach further back than has been previously considered.

Jacob Soll, Rutgers University

Zachary S. Shiffman

Dooley's work will find a ready audience among early modern scholars in history and philosophy. A brief comment cannot do justice to the subtlety of his ambitious argument, the readability of his prose, the unimpeachability of his secondary sources and his enviable familiarity with a wide range of primary sources, especially in archival form.

Zachary S. Shiffman, Northeastern Illinois University

Meet the Author

Brendan Dooley is an associate professor in the Department of History at Harvard University.

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