The Fugger brothers had these newsletters bound and compiled in annual volumes, which eventually comprised about 16,000 newsletters in German and Italian.
"The collection covers the period between 1568 and 1605, precisely the time leading up to the first printed newspapers," notes principal investigator Katrin Keller of the University of Vienna. Previously, the emergence of periodical newspapers in Europe had been ascribed to the year 1605, which saw the first printed weekly being published in Strasbourg. However, that date is now open to discussion, since the Fugger collection, as well as other collections, showed that modern news systems had developed prior to that.
THE BIRTH OF THE MODERN PRESS
While always considered significant, the Fugger collection was usually believed to constitute something of an exception or an isolated body of material. Comparisons facilitated by digitization now show a different picture, corroborating recent research that found the Fugger newsletters to be an integral element of the overall media landscape in Early Modern Times. In her research project, Katrin Keller makes an important contribution to these insights by comparing other newsletter collections with the "Fuggerzeitungen". – She comes to the conclusion that "there were identical newsletters in other places, including Dresden, Wolfenbüttel or Leipzig and Weimar."
The newsletters were mainly an instrument of political communication. The Fugger brothers, just as the Elector of Saxony or the Duke of Bavaria, read the news to obtain as comprehensive an insight as possible into what was happening at their time: "Whereas two thirds of the reports provided information about military developments, important treaty negotiations, princely weddings or political events, the "Fuggerzeitungen" also contain stories about explorers’ journeys to overseas territories. These stories were often longer texts, sent as supplements to the actual newsletter. ‘The conquest of Santo Domingo by the English seafarer and circumnavigator Sir Francis Drake’ was one such supplement," Keller notes.
Together with Nikolaus Schobesberger and Paola Molino, principal investigator Katrin Keller processed the complete collection of handwritten newspapers in Vienna in a project supported by the FWF. Although there are other archives, for instance in Marburg, Dresden or Munich, which have comprehensive handwritten news holdings, the "Fuggerzeitungen" (Fugger newsletters) in Vienna is the most well-known of these collections. Within the project, the material was also digitised and has now been made accessible to international research in a database at http://fuggerzeitungen.univie.ac.at/.
The scholars have indexed about 10,000 individuals and 5,500 locations mentioned in the newsletters. The indexes also facilitate reconstruction of the sizeable Europe-wide network of news transfers that existed in the late 16th century, as is also demonstrated by the map material in the database. This clearly shows that Rome, Venice, Augsburg, Cologne, Antwerp, Vienna and Prague were the big "news centres" of the period, although some of the news also came from overseas, from India, North Africa and the Middle East.
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