Language in English Civil War Title Pages

[Civil Unrest]



It is not uncommon to hear analysts today discuss the phenomenon of the political "echo chamber," in which readers accesses only that information which confirms their political beliefs. To some, this problem has only been exacerbated by the advent of digital media and news outlets - including websites, search engines and blogs.1 With their mechanisms to deliver content similar to to the information previously consumed by a particular user, these technologies encourage the repetition of distinct biases. This arrangement, however, is not unique to the present day.

The residents of London after 1641 witnessed the most significant expansion in access to political literature in their history. In the politically charged atmosphere after King Charles's flight from the capital following his lengthy confrontations with Parliament, the ascendent government dismantled the monarchy's authority to censor printed material. In the ensuing eight years, in which Parliament and the king would divide the country in civil war, Londoners consumed thousands of newly-available printed documents at a 'marketplace' of political ideas. These documents ranged from "lengthy scholarly treatises to short eight-page works, often decorated with woodcuts which could be crude in both form and content," They also contained the radical political ideas which would galvanize Britons to execute their own king in 1649.2

Through our research, we would like to examine the "echo chambers" that may have existed in the marketplace of political ideas throughout the English Civil War. To do this, we are employing computational programs to analyze the title pages of a select sample of these documents.

Title pages prove particularly informative, as publishers and booksellers would style them as advertisements to potential readers.3 By analyzing these 'paratexts' for their structure, presentation and significant word usage, we can conclude whether there existed a relationship between political ideas and the literary elements through which they were expressed. If the literary conventions on title pages did speak to the political content within, then there would exist the possibility for selective reading within "echo chambers"


We have selected a sample of 41 title pages for our analysis. All of these title pages, and the documents which they introduced, were printed between 1642 and 1649 - from the year that monarchic censorship collapsed, to the year in which King Charles was executed. All texts can be found in the famous 'Thomason Tracts' - a collection of roughly 22,000 printed documents collected by London publisher and bookseller George Thomason, between 1640 and 1661. We consulted all facsimile photos of these title pages from the Early English Books Online collection.

To further specify our research sample, we analyzed only those documents which bore a "printer's mark" as a title page, according to the curators of EEBO. These "printers' marks" consisted in simple designs and insignia to identify the printer of the document. Not only did this constrain the sample, but it also insured that all title pages were publicly presented as such.