Foretelling the Everyday: Early Modern English Almanacs Prepare a Public for News

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Woodruff, Robert Jeremiah
Beasley, Maurine
This dissertation examines 376 English almanacs printed from 1595 to 1640 for the extent to which they provided basic, everyday information that ordinary citizens sought to increase their agency and place in the world. These almanacs, appearing annually, had highly conventional content features repeated in many different editions. Analysis of twenty of these components show patterns that make it possible for a researcher to systematically discern the information needs and appetites of many people who may not have been represented in the written record. Because these almanacs were inexpensive and printed in large numbers, they are estimated to have been in one of every three households in England in this period, making them the most common print product of the day. Since the almanacs were a monopoly of the Worshipful Company of Stationers, the printer&rsquos and bookseller&rsquos guild, their conventional, highly structured content can be read as coherently responsive to the almanacs &rsquo many buyers and users. The considerable importance of the revenue from exclusive almanac production to the guild &rsquos financial stability provided incentive for responsiveness to the public. The components analyzed, including various forms of calendars, geographical, historical and health information, and modes of calculation and measurement, show a consistent pattern even though individual almanac brands flourished and expired during this 45-year period. This analysis explicates the value of these component features to the almanacs &rsquo users and contends it enhanced their agency. Almanacs &rsquo predictive astrological content, this dissertation argues, complemented their access to information by framing a planning process for the coming year, as well as enabling agency-enhancing play or rehearsal. The almanac, also a gateway to improved literacy, is presented as the essential, indispensable information tool for the ordinary people who played a significant role in the civil wars period (1641-60). Without the information base and expectation of annual publication provided by the almanacs, this dissertation contends, the public would not have been prepared to recognize the difference between everyday life and new developments, the routine and the unusual &mdash nor the value of actual news when regularly provided. The almanacs enabled and prepared ordinary people in England to be receptive to what came to be called journalism.