Smith wrote a delightful account of John McLean Harrington and his handwritten newspapers (probably the largest collection in the world). Not only does he focus on Harrington's news, politics, poetry and ads of the Civil War era, but he rounds out the storyline with backdrops of history and local color: "Collecting subscription fees proved difficult and payment could take the form of bartering with farmers, some of whom paid with produce," Smith wrote. Wedding announcements were paid with a slice of wedding cake!
A poem in one of Harrington's newspapers, Spitting on the Floor, about men chewing tobacco and spitting on the floor while women cleaned up the mess, is classic.
Smith believes that Harrington was so passionate about getting his voice out there that he did it by the only means available--writing by hand--in the spirit of modern bloggers. Handwritten newspapers seem more personalized, like a letter, creating a feeling of kinship with the writer, Smith said. Readers are inspired to actively participate in their shared lives, which helps build solidarity in the community.
The tedious task of handwriting hundreds of copies of newspapers to communicate with the people is unsurpassed, and Smith, in his well-researched book, captures the essence of Harrington's fervor and explores the reasons behind it. I thoroughly enjoyed reading it.
The spirit of John McLean Harrington leaps off the page of this must read that links the handwritten newspapers from central North Carolina during the Civil War to the modern day writings in today's blogs. Dr. Michael R. Smith has taken a forgotten piece of North Carolina history and shown that unknowingly a simple writer without a printing press went above and beyond to get his thoughts and ideas to the masses leaving behind a legacy and forgotten art of hand written newspapers. This book is a must read for those interested in History, English, Communications, and Journalism as it is a 19th century example of the roots of mass media. These roots and values extend into modern day life as mankind strives for self expression and the right to be heard via the ever growing online community of blogs, forums, and social networking sites.
Michael R. Smith has reminded the world that a free press is more about community than it is about technology. His research into the journalism of a solitary Southern writer and editor notes the too-often forgotten contributions that small-town news made in the formation of these United States. The implications of grassroots journalism has not diminished in our day; the power of community connectedness in the journalism created and consumed in close contact with neighbors is something that defies the innovations of convergent media. The encouraging thing about what Smith has unearthed is that it puts journalism historians across the U.S. and in other developed nations on notice that the archives under their noses most likely have stories much like Smith's waiting to be told.
This is a fascinating study of a medium that has been largely neglected by historians--the handwritten newspaper. The desire of marginalized individuals to be heard, which largely drives the blogging world, did not begin with the Internet. With John McLean Harrington, Professor Smith has found a compelling character on which he can construct a lively and concise introduction to a larger topic. A Free Press in Freehand should be of interest to students of the Civil War, as well as to readers interested in the history of journalism.
Jeff Broadwater, Professor of History Barton Colege
Smith's work shows that even the most modern ideas have historical roots. Harrington's work is an example of how the power of sharing ideas inspires communicators to go to great lengths - an idea that can be found in modern blogging. His story is a testament to the enduring value of the written word.