CBC Radio’s daily program Ideas, hosted by Paul Kennedy, has run an extensive (14-part) series on “The Origins of the Modern Public,” with installments featuring, among others, Michael Warner and Craig Calhoun. The series traces the emergence of the modern public from the early modern period to the present; the CBC describes the rationale of the program as follows:

All of us today participate in imaginary communities that we call publics – our Ideas broadcast assembles a virtual community of listeners – a listening public. But there was a time when making things public was the exclusive property of men of rank. Matters of state, Queen Elizabeth I proclaimed to her subjects in 1559, were fit to be treated only by “men of authority” and conveyed only to audiences of “grave and discreet persons.” By the 18th century it had become meaningful to talk about public opinion as a sovereign power formed outside the state. What happened in the intervening years to make this revolution possible is the subject of this Ideas series.

It draws on the work of an interdisciplinary group of Canadian and American scholars, who for the last five years have been engaged in a research project called Making Publics. Centred on McGill University, the project’s field of study has been England and Western Europe during the period that scholars now call the early modern, or roughly 1500 to 1700. Its aim has been nothing less than a new view of where the public comes from, and how publics are composed.

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