Moving Pictures: Serial Revolutions in 1848

Wednesday 5 May 2021 (17:00-19:00)

Dr Oliver Herford (

Centre for Literary Editing and the Materiality of the Text

Professor Clare Pettitt (Kings College London) will present work from her ongoing monograph series on the centrality of serial form to nineteenth-century culture, media, history and politics. This talk will focus on the international circulation of printed images of the European revolutions of 1848, arguing that the new visual praxis of stereotype printing was key to creating a sense of connectivity and identity across Europe.

Woodcut of Prague, Barricades during the revolution of 1848, June 1848The technologies that made illustrations cheap and fast to produce were only just becoming readily available in 1848, so that the sweep of revolutions was among the first news to offer itself to the new visual media techniques. The result was a new visual praxis which this paper argues was key to creating a sense of connectivity and identity across Europe. Because of the sharing of ‘stereotypes’ or printing plates, identical illustrations of barricades, insurgent fighting, and newly constituted parliaments and assemblies appeared in illustrated journals in Britain, Germany and France, copying themselves across Europe to very different readerships. This paper tracks newspaper illustrations of revolution through France and onwards into Italy, Germany, Austria, and Hungary. It suggests that the mistaken nineteenth-century idea that the 1848 revolutions started in Paris and radiated out from the French capital survives in our history books partly because of the very strong press links between Paris and London so that the Paris revolution of February 1848 was rapidly and extensively reported in the Anglophone press, and then exported from London to other European cities.