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Popular political oratory and itinerant lecturing in Yorkshire and the North East in the age of Chartism, c. 1837-60\ud

By J L Martin


Itinerant lecturers declaiming upon free trade, Chartism, temperance, or anti-slavery could be heard in market places and halls across the country during the years 1837-60. The power of the spoken word was such that all major pressure groups employed lecturers and sent them on extensive tours. Print historians tend to overplay the importance of newspapers and tracts in disseminating political ideas and forming public opinion. This thesis demonstrates the importance of older, traditional forms of communication. Inert printed pages were no match for charismatic oratory. Combining personal magnetism, drama and immediacy, the itinerant lecturer was the most effective medium through which to reach those with limited access to books, newspapers or national political culture. Orators crucially united their dispersed audiences in national struggles for reform, fomenting discussion and coalescing political opinion, while railways, the telegraph and expanding press reportage allowed speakers and their arguments to circulate rapidly.\ud Understanding of political oratory and public meetings has been skewed by over-emphasis upon the hustings and high-profile politicians. This has generated two misconceptions: that political meetings were generally rowdy and that a golden age of political oratory was secured only through Gladstone’s legendary stumping tours. However, this thesis argues that, far from being disorderly, public meetings were carefully regulated and controlled offering disenfranchised males a genuine democratic space for political discussion. Its detailed research into Yorkshire and the North East, demonstrates both the growth of popular political speechmaking and the emergence of a class of professional lecturers. It identifies a paradigm shift from classical oratory to more populist styles of speaking, as more humble speakers took to the platform; and it argues that through the growth of popular political oratory the platform had been rehabilitated by the 1860s and the lecture format commercialized\u

Publisher: History (York)
Year: 2010
OAI identifier:

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