Vera Keller

The Origins of the Modern Public

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For more than forty years I worked in public broadcasting, and, during that time, I often pondered what it was that made what I was doing public and distinguished it from "private" broadcasting.  Was it just a matter of ownership - the state versus private capital - or did CBC's mandate to serve the Canadian public mean something more?   How is the public constituted in the first place?   With  such questions on my mind,  I was keenly interested when, in 2003, a colleague made me aware of a project then just getting underway called Making Publics, or MaPs for short .  Centred on McGill University and under the direction of Shakespearean scholar Paul Yachnin, it brought together scholars, from diverse disciplines and far-flung Canadian and American universities, who for five years would work on the question of how the modern idea of the public took shape in Europe in the period from approximately 1500 to 1700.  I got in touch and got an enthusiastic response from the project's principals when I suggested that I would like to follow the MaPs project through its whole course and then share its findings on Ideas.   When I later explained my role to an American visitor who was participating in one of the several conferences that were held under MaPs auspices, she laughed and said, "Oh, so you're an embedded reporter."   The description became a standing joke, but, in a sense, it fit.  I did become a regular member of the project, and, then, during its last year, I recorded interviews with everyone who had taken part.  To them I added a few additional voices: Michael Warner whose book Publics and Counterpublics had been a touchstone throughout the project's discussions; Michael McKeon who had come up to Montreal for a weekend to discuss his book The Secret History of Domesticity with members of MaPs; and Craig Calhoun who had been at the centre of much American discussion of the public sphere.  Then I wove all these voices together into fourteen broadcasts.  The line-up was as follows:

Part One: Introduction, with Paul Yachnin, David Harris Sacks, Steven Mullaney, David Boruchoff and Vera Keller

Part Two: The Reformation, with Torrance Kirby, Matt Milner and Robert Tittler

Part Three: Forms of Nationhood, with Roland Greene, Richard Helgerson, and Leslie Cormack

Part Four: The Print Revolution, with Richard Helgerson, Bronwen Wilson, Patricia Fumerton, and Julie Cumming

Part Five: Painting Modernity, with Angela Vanhaelen, Bronwen Wilson and Paul Yachnin

Part Six: Theatre, with Jean Howard, Mike Bristol, Paul Yachnin and Steven Mullaney

Part Seven: Theatre II, with Paul Yachnin, Steven Mullaney and Mike Bristol

Part Eight: Public and Private, with Lena Orlin, Patricia Fumerton and Richard Helgerson

Part Nine: The Secret History of Domesticity, with Michael McKeon

Part Ten: Science, with Leslie Cormack and Vera Keller

Part Eleven: Steps to a Public Sphere, with Robert Tittler, Anne Thackray, Joe Ward and Kevin Pask

Part Twelve: News Culture and the 18th Century, with David Randall and Brian Cowan

Part Thirteen: Publics and Counterpublics, with Michael Warner

Part Fourteen: The Public Sphere Today, with Darin Barney, Craig Calhoun and Paul Yachnin