Historical Social Research

Brian Cowan: Histories of Celebrity in Post-Revolutionary England.[Abstract]

The history of celebrity has been revised in recent years. Particular claims have been made for the invention of a recognizably modern form of celebrity at various points in the ‘long 18th century.’ This putative rise of modern celebrity has been linked with the rise of a modern public sphere and in many ways is understood as an offshoot of it. Furthermore, modern celebrity is often presented as a commercial enterprise and perhaps another aspect of the equally popular claim that the 18th century witnessed a ‘consumer revolution.’ This essay argues that there is also a political history of celebrity that has its origins in traditional forms of charisma and public devotion to famous figures. The pre-modern histories of monarchy and sainthood are not irrelevant to the history of modern celebrity and these perspectives can and should be incorporated into any understanding of how celebrity emerged as a form of public notoriety and influence in the long 18th century.

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