Ballads of Death and Disaster: The Role of Song in Early Modern News Transmission

McIlvenna, Una (2016) Ballads of Death and Disaster: The Role of Song in Early Modern News Transmission. In: Zika, Charles and Spinks, Jenny, eds. Disaster, Death and Emotions in the Shadow of the Apocalypse, 1400-1700. Palgrave, pp. 275-294. ISBN 978-1-137-44270-3. E-ISBN 978-1-137-44271-0. (Access to this publication is currently restricted. You may be able to access a copy if URLs are provided)

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Abstract

This paper explores how ballads presented and mediated the news of death and disaster, and in doing so how they functioned within the early modern system of information transmission. Why did early modern Europeans sing songs about distressing events in which people suffered loss and pain, or died brutally or in large numbers? By looking at songs about two of the most popular news topics of the day, public executions and disasters, we can get a sense of the manner in which balladry differed in its presentation of the news from the prose pamphlets that circulated at the same time. I show that ballads acted as a vehicle of learning, a pedagogic tool that encouraged their listener-singers to interpret negative events as a warning of divine retribution and as an opportunity to repent for one’s sins. While prose broadsheets presented such news in a similar way, songs’ ability to be easily memorised and repeated meant that they were the most effective medium for the dissemination of such a message in an early modern Europe racked by violence, death and disaster. They can therefore provide an explanation for the ubiquity of apocalyptic belief and discourse in sixteenth- and seventeenth-century Europe.

Item Type: Book section
Subjects: D History General and Old World > D History (General) > D901 Europe (General)
H Social Sciences > HN Social history and conditions. Social problems. Social reform
M Music and Books on Music > M Music
Divisions: Faculties > Humanities > School of English
Depositing User: Una McIlvenna
Date Deposited: 12 Apr 2016 19:45 UTC
Last Modified: 26 Jan 2017 09:31 UTC
Resource URI: https://kar.kent.ac.uk/id/eprint/54909 (The current URI for this page, for reference purposes)
McIlvenna, Una: https://orcid.org/0000-0002-4798-7880
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