U.S. Intellectual History Blog

Street Newspapers and Intellectual History

A year ago, on a trip to Nashville, i picked up an anthology of poetry collected from The Contributor, Nashville’s Street Newspaper. Published by Third Man Press, Jack White’s publishing venture, the little volume of poems has gotten more attention than it otherwise would have. Still, for many, Street Newspapers are unfamiliar entities. The poems in the anthology were great, united primarily by their publication in The Contributor. The Contributor is but one of many street newspapers published in the United States. These newspapers, which exist in cities as including Detroit, San Francisco, and Philadelphia offer both economic opportunity and a place to publish for people who have little access to literary and journalistic outlets. Many of the articles are traditional news reporting, often with a social justice bent. But other stories are, like one recently published in Street Sheet, San Francisco’s street newspaper entitled “Resistance Through Art: Where It’s Been and Where It’s Going” are intellectual works, often written by unhoused people themselves. Portland’s street newspaper regularly publishes poetry, book reviews, and other cultural and intellectual pieces like the recent “Portland’s Subsersive Sticker Culture” by Emily Green.

The gulf between art and journalism and journalism and scholarship has been debated in the comments here before, but work published by unhoused people in Street Newspapers bring up the classed and racicalized assumptions implicit in these divides. If journalism does not count as intellectual inquiry, but is one of the only outlets for the work of unhoused people, we ignore the important contributions of marginalized people.

Unhoused people are often written about by scholars and intellectuals, primarily in the social sciences (thinking of works like Sidewalk by Mitch Dunier). But, like other marginalized populations, their writing has not been taken as seriously as it should be, especially because many of these newspapers were designed as an economic engine rather than a space for intellectual debate.

But the critical essays and poetry found in street newspapers across the country deal with issues important to intellectual history: radical movements, culture, religion, and politics.

I’m not sure how to include the contributions of unhoused people, in and beyond their work in Street newspapers, into my own work, though the relationship between homelessness and incarceration is clear. But Street Newspapers are but another example of traditionally marginalized people engaging in important intellectual debates and another perspective that can, and should, be included in analysis of intellectual history, especially during the Trump presidency. Shouldn’t we consider the political solutions and cultural critiques of some of those most vulnerable in our society?

If you are interested in reading more, The International Network of Street Newspapers has information about many of the papers mentioned here!

2 Thoughts on this Post

  1. Holly, just wanted to thank you for this post and this reminder about what is likely a very under-studied but incredibly rich resource for intellectual history. If we’re looking for how/where/to what extent ideas, concepts, world views, assumptions, ways of framing experience, etc., permeated and shaped the sensibilities of an era, we should feel free to look in these places too. Thanks for putting in a plug for this promising corner of print culture.

    • Thank you for this thoughtful comment! I love digging up-or just thinking about-great historical/intellectual sources that are a little less mainstream! Glad to hear it’s thought provoking!

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