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TO AUGUST 31
Before there were newspapers, there was news, which is to say the usual assortment of obvious, absurd, and occasionally enlightening pronouncements. In the 17th century, the English followed the latest developments in politics, crime, and weather through broadsides and pamphlets whose lurid enthusiasms closely resemble those of contemporary British (and American) tabloids. This selection of vintage English publications shows that the terminology has changed a bit since then: They had celestial visions, poltergeists, and demons; we have UFOs, angels, and Michael Jackson. Medical knowledge has expanded, but inexplicable diseases and growths are still popular, as are the entertainments, entanglements, and foibles of the rich and powerful. (Alas, burning the pope in effigy has fallen from favor.) Also missing today is some of that old-English enthusiasm: Few contemporary journals proclaim that they convey “strange and wonderful news,” even when they do. Instead, they’re more likely to wrap themselves in dignified cloaks like that of another venerable publication, which called itself “The Impartial Scout.” Then as now, authorities were skeptical of such professions of objectivity: This exhibit includes copies of laws and regulations designed to curb the press, as well as the tale of printer John Twyn, whose severed head and quartered body were displayed at five separate London gates as reminders to those who would let impartiality run wild. At Folger Shakespeare Library, 201 East Capitol St. SE. (202) 544-7077. (Mark Jenkins)