I’m a historian of the American Revolution and the Atlantic world. I’m especially interested in the Age of Revolutions, American media and politics, and histories of truth and falsehood.
I am also fascinated by the material and social history of the news media in eighteenth-century North America. I have explored how newspapers participated in the slave trade, the lives of newspaper carriers, the social history of newspaper readers, and even the ways that weather and seasonality affected newspapers.
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.
My book Misinformation Nation: Foreign News and the Politics of Truth in Revolutionary America (Johns Hopkins University Press, 2022) 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’s a good book.
Articles and Book Chapters
Historians widely acknowledge the significance of Thomas Paine’s Common Sense, the most popular pamphlet in revolutionary America, in securing American independence. Yet they have almost entirely forgotten the importance of the second-most popular pamphleteer of the era, Anglican Bishop Jonathan Shipley. This essay recovers Shipley’s significance while also suggesting that his works paved the way for Paine’s explosive success. Shipley’s two bestselling pamphlets have been forgotten because they were more pragmatic and less ideological than Paine’s writings. Focused on economics and policy rather than principle, Shipley’s works do not neatly fit within nationalist narratives of the American Revolution. Examining these pamphlets, and the ways that their receptions diverged over time, provides insight onto the complex relationships among print, politics, and nation in early America.
“All the Old Dudes Carry the News: Carrier Addresses, Inequality, and the Privileges of Newspaper Subscription in Eighteenth-Century North America,” Eighteenth-Century Studies (Fall 2022).
“Circulation, Subscription, and Circumscription: The Pennsylvania Journal and Newspaper Readership in Revolutionary Philadelphia,” Pennsylvania Magazine of History and Biography (April 2022).
How many people read newspapers in early America? This is an important question for historians of the American Revolution, who rely on a model of widespread newspaper readership to explain broad-scale political change. Yet given the limitations of the documentary record, addressing this question has required scholars to rely on a great deal of guesswork and anecdotal evidence. Building on an analysis of the subscription books of the Pennsylvania Journal from 1766 through early 1774, in dialogue with two Canadian subscription lists from the late eighteenth century, this essay embarks on a more empirically grounded approach to questions of newspaper readership and subscription in revolutionary America. Newspapers were not, as some have concluded, read widely among all classes. Instead, regular access to newspapers usually coincided with social privilege, in ways that trouble some of the prevailing narratives of political mobilization during the American Revolution.
“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.
“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.