Until recently scholarly (wissenchaftliche) reflection on celebrity has tended to approach it primarily as a product of the twentieth century, but over the last few decades there has been increasing attention paid to its longer-term history. The field has been expanding rapidly, along with the rigour and scope of the research approaches pursued, and this Supplement of Historical Social Research showcases a selection of key interventions both by established scholars and innovative younger researchers. Probably the most widespread approach is now to see the development of modern celebrity as anchored in the Enlightenment and the emergence of the public sphere in the eighteenth century, and this has produced a lively set of debates about how the role of celebrity in the public sphere should be analysed. Alongside those debates, there are also important things to be said about celebrity in earlier historical periods, as well as what its specific trajectories were in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries.
Precisely because celebrity has a history, it is possible to identify particular periods when the surrounding societal changes were accompanied by connected changes in the character and dynamics of celebrity. This HSR Supplement covers the dynamics of the heightened attention paid to public figures in the eighteenth century, the ways in which the concept of ‘the King’s two bodies’ can be applied to ascribed and achieved celebrity, early-modern as well as eighteenth- and nineteenth-century theatrical and literary celebrity, American heroes in the nineteenth century, and sporting celebrity. While novelty, the state of being apparently unprecedented, is often the hallmark of the individual celebrity, celebrity as a phenomenon and the discursive themes surrounding it are anything but new, and its history remains an important and exciting field of innovative scholarship.