Research

This visualization, created using Palladio, depicts U.S. newspaper citations from 1755 through 1804.

I’m a historian of early America and the Atlantic world. I’m especially interested in the Age of Revolutions, American media and politics, and what people have meant by “truth” in the past.

If you’re curious about these publications but are unable to access them, feel free to contact me and I’ll do what I can to help.

Misinformation Nation

My forthcoming book Misinformation Nation: Foreign News and the Politics of Truth in Revolutionary America examines how foreign news, including a great deal of false news, drove the politics of the American Revolution. It reconstructs the networks of exchange that provided Americans with information from abroad in the late eighteenth century, while also telling the story of how Americans made sense of this confusing flood of news. It will be published by Johns Hopkins University Press in Fall 2022.

Articles and Book Chapters

“Now is the Winter of Our Dull Content: Seasonality and the Atlantic Communications Frontier in Eighteenth-Century New England,” New England Quarterly (March 2022).

Winter was a challenging time for newspaper printers in early New England. When temperatures dropped, ships stopped arriving from abroad and foreign intelligence dried up. Examining this link between climate and print culture helps to reveal the material origins of early America’s literary culture and its public sphere.

“Enquire of the Printer: North American Newspaper Printers, Advertising, and the Moral Economy of the Slave Trade, 1704–1807,” Early American Studies (Summer 2020). 

Historians have long recognized that newspaper printers actively participated in maintaining the slave system in the United States. The thousands and thousands of runaway slave ads and slave sale ads printed in early American newspapers attests to this fact. But scholars have not paid much notice to another kind of advertisement that appeared in nearly every long-running eighteenth-century newspaper: slave sale ads that put the printer forward as the sale’s broker. These ads sparked a considerable amount of backlash in the late eighteenth-century, as some antislavery readers recognized the incongruity between printers as slave brokers and as agents of revolutionary politics.

Winner of 2021 John M. Murrin Prize for best essay published in Early American Studies in 2020. Committee’s note: 

This essay impressed the committee by offering a wide-ranging speculative media history of the participation of newspaper printers in the slave trade in North America prior to abolition in 1807. “[P]rinters,” Taylor argues, “created the conditions that allowed North America’s local and regional slave-trading networks to flourish.” Indeed, by documenting the widespread practice of printers, north and south, acting as mediators and signal-boosters for the slave trade in the early American information economy, the essay provides a fascinating model for reading the otherwise recalcitrant vagueness of the practice of placing and responding to advertisements, whose terms are largely hidden behind the phrase “enquire of the printer.”

Winner of 2020-2021 Research Society for American Periodicals Article Prize. Committee’s note:

The Research Society for American Periodicals awards the 2020/21 Article Prize to Jordan Taylor for his article “Enquire of the Printer: Newspaper Advertising and the Moral Economy of the North American Slave Trade, 1704-1807,” published in Early American Studies. Taylor’s essay is a powerful and important study of the multifarious roles of the printer and the newspaper over a century in North America. Drawing on a newspaper convention, the call to “enquire of the printer” any details about advertisements, Taylor’s study shines a light on the meaning of this apparently innocuous convention when the advertisements were for sales of enslaved people. The essay configures the printer as an information and financial broker within the slave trade and shows in intricate detail the interactions between racial and print capitalism. In so doing, it situates the newspaper in larger sociopolitical and economic contexts: “To be a newspaper printer was to be a slave trader.” Taylor’s essay combines attention to the space of the newspaper page and its textual and its material juxtapositions as well as to practices of reading, and rests on a wealth of primary sources to produce new insight into periodical production, consumption, and social meaning. In so doing, it can stand proudly among the best periodical scholarship today.

“The Literati and the Illuminati: Atlantic Knowledge Networks and Augustin Barruel’s Conspiracy Theories in the United States, 1794–1800, (Studies in Book Culture, Jan. 2020).

In the last few years of the eighteenth century, many North Americans came to accept a conspiracy theory originating from the works of a French Jesuit priest named Augustin Barruel. A cabal of Freemasons called “the Illuminati” did not, in fact, hatch the French Revolution. Nor did they scheme to subvert the United States afterwards. But as unreasonable as these claims seem today, they seemed plausible at the time. Other accounts of the so-called “Illuminati scare” emphasize the “paranoid” or conspiratorial mentality of the era. But an examination of the era’s knowledge production processes and the epistolary networks of Jedidiah Morse, the theory’s biggest American booster, reveals that a significant amount of evidence supported the theory according to the era’s epistemological norms.

“The Reign of Error: The French Revolution and North American Information Politics, 1789–1795,” (Journal of the Early Republic, Fall 2019).

Why did Canadians and Americans experience the French Revolution so differently? Historians have usually attributed their perceptions of this event to ideological commitments. In this article, I argue that a significant, and largely unnoticed, part of this story involves the flow of news into these spaces. As a dataset of newspaper citations reveals, American observers engaged with significantly more news that arrived directly from France which reflected a revolutionary orthodoxy, while Canadians relied more heavily on Francophobic reports from London.

“All the Old Dudes Carry the News: Carrier Addresses, Inequality, and the Privileges of Newspaper Subscription in Eighteenth-Century North America,” Eighteenth-Century Studies (forthcoming).

“Circulation, Subscription, and Circumscription: The Pennsylvania Journal and Newspaper Readership in Revolutionary Philadelphia,” Pennsylvania Magazine of History and Biography (forthcoming).

“Paine’s Runner-Up: Jonathan Shipley’s Forgotten Bestsellers and the Print Culture of the American Revolution,” Book History (forthcoming).

“Media Literacy in the Age of Revolutions,” for forthcoming volume The Age of Revolutions in the Digital Age, ed. Ben Wright, Nora Slonimsky, and Mark Boonshoft.

“Radicalism, Resistance, and Reaction amid Atlantic Revolution,” for forthcoming multivolume collection The Cambridge History of the American Revolution, ed. Marjoleine Kars, Michael McDonnell, and Andrew M. Schocket.