The Spectators in the international context

The phenomenon of the „Spectators” or Moral Weeklies forms part of the European culture during the era of Enlightenment. The journalistic genre of the Moral Weeklies, which had its origins at the beginning of the 18th century in England, spread not only all over the British Isles but also over the rest of Europe. Some hundred journals had been published in Europe during this century. The reason for the successful development was definitely the innovative aspect of the writings, which were published as newspapers in more or less regular intervals and which had become a representative indicator for the social and cultural changing of the society during Enlightenment. As the term „Moral Weeklies” already shows, it normally concerned journalistic as well as essayistic texts with moral questions, whose central concept was virtue: How you should behave in a changing society? According to which parameters human actions had to be judged? Which communicational functions took the contemporary human being in public areas like coffee shops, pubs and saloons? Why had the journals become a medium for new forms of conversation?

The papers are characteristically based on a fictional author or editor, who referred in his texts to a more or less invented network of letters to the editor and made the messages of virtue even more complex. The rich atmosphere of entertainment, supported by numerous votes, created a public with new moral requirements. The literarily coloured texts refer to social systems like religion, economics, politics, arts and literature and also give information about the change of the social discourse and behaviour. Moreover, the literary constituent can be demonstrated in its potential of fictionalization.

The available data base offers a systematic analysis and description of prominent „Spectators”. In a first step, we open an access to the electronic version of some of the most important papers of the Romance language area, especially to Spanish, Italian and French texts. Further work is in progress. In a long run, it is important to get a picture of all „Spectators” in order to analyze them and to show their communicational functions. Therefore, the reader will not only find the journals in an electronic version, but he/she will also get an idea of their thematic and formal dimensions. Through a specially arranged visualization of the texts, the user will get to know the themes and contents and will see according to which formal and narrative principles the authors or editors proceed. It will be demonstrated if the papers are about the representation of gender roles, fashion, marriage, education or rules of behaviour in political or economical life. According to the stylistic dimension, the texts are showing all forms of representation like letters, tales, examples or metapoetical frames. The visualizations are also demonstrating that the texts are organized according to the model of interlaced forms of discourse, which reminds of the framed construction of an Italian novel or – metaphorically – of the principle of Russian dolls.

Klaus-Dieter Ertler, Alexandra Fuchs, Michaela Fischer, Elisabeth Hobisch, Martina Scholger, Yvonne Völkl

February 2011