The Revolution Papers is a work of genius
Anyone who has done research in newspapers knows that eventually you drift away from the research and just end up reading the paper. Whether it’s The Dublin Courier of 1761 or the Evening Press of 1961, there is a hypnotic fascination in the minutiae of day-to-day news seen through the wrong end of the telescope. “Little did they know what was just about to happen …” – hindsight provides irresistible dramatic irony. And perhaps we can sense how trivial or quaint our own worries will appear to future readers.
So the idea of publishing facsimile copies of newspapers from periods of dramatic historical change is genius. The Revolution Papers (therevolutionpapers.ie) hits the bulls-eye. It sensibly condenses the seven years of the Irish revolution, 1916 to 1923, into 52 weekly instalments, that build into a temptingly collectible home-made archive. The print quality is superb. The cover art is excellent. Each comes with an original, succinct scholarly article on a specific aspect of the period.
My initial reaction was that the whole thing seemed suspiciously well done, a little un-I rish even. Where was the PR blitz from the usual suspects? The high-visibility launch with political ribbon-cutting? And how could they afford TV ads voiced by Pat Kenny, for God’s sake?
A little research shows that the venture is resolutely private-sector, produced by Albertas, a London-based, Irish-run company that already has similar very successful projects under its belt. In France it publishes Les journeaux de guerre (1939-1945), and in Germany Zeitungszeugen (“Newspapers as witness” 1933-1945).
The Irish version deserves to be a runaway success; it is the best piece of popular history publishing this country has seen for many years.
The company’s hair-raising experiences in Germany are salutary. For daring to reproduce Nazi-era newspapers, they were (ludicrously) sued by the state of Bavaria for infringing Hitler’s copyright and (even more ludicrously) prosecuted for disseminating Nazi propaganda. Common sense has since prevailed.