One of the most powerful means that was instrumental in disseminating the liberal, radical, and patriotic ideas of the 19th century, is the Press. In fact, social and political clubs were founded, the members of which could read the newspapers the club provided, in order to have access to more comprehensive and accurate information, while the fruitful discussions on the news led to new ideas.
The Corfu Reading Society commenced in 1836 as such a social, political and patriotic club. Its first Chairman was Petros Vrailas-Armenis, Professor of Philosophy at the Ionian Academy, advocate of the reforms of the Ionian Parliament, and editor of the significant newspaper “Πατρίς” (Homeland) (1849).
The first article of the oldest preserved Articles of Association of the Corfu Reading Society (1848) stipulates that: “The object of the Reading Society is to read newspapers, and scientific and literary works”.
The announcement of the Society’s establishment in the Official Gazette of the Ionian State (Ιssue 269, 8 February 1836) read accordingly: “A company of young Corfiots established a Reading Society on the street with the new buildings…” (i.e. Kapodistriou street), followed by the publication of a catalogue of 17 newspapers and journals (three Greek and fourteen western-European) that were available in its premises.
The dynamics developed by the diffusion of the written periodical press, can be seen in the fact that, while in 1836, Corfu Reading Society informed the readers of the Official Gazette of the Ionian Islands that it had 17 subscriptions in newspapers and other well-established scientific European journals (mainly legal and medical), in 1848 the number of the newspapers and journals the Society received on a regular basis had risen to 35 (more than double) within only 12 years.
The most important fact is that in 1848 the freedom of Press was established in the Ionian State. As a result, dozens of publications were circulated in the Ionian Islands, expressing different political and patriotic views in a mature, assertive and dynamic manner. The variety of these publications and the swiftness of their circulation is still quite impressive.
The Corfu Reading Society was fortunate enough to operate unimpededly and managed to preserve a great part of these newspapers. Today, it has a rich collection of more than 150 newspaper and journal titles circulated in the Ionian Islands in the period 1814 – 1950.
According to the historian Stathis Pouliasis:
Apart from the entire collection of the Gazzetta degli Stati Uniti delle Isole Jonie, i.e. the Official Gazette of the Ionian State (1814-1864), the Society prides itself on some significant and nowadays rare Press material, for example: “Gazzetta dei Tribunali Ionii”, “Ugo Foscolo”, “Πατρίς” (Homeland), “Ανεξάρτητος” (Independent), “Εθνική” (National), “Ελεύθερος Λόγος” (Free Speech), “Η Αγροτική Κέρκυρα” (The Rural Corfu), “Τα Καθημερινά” (The Everyday news), “Η Ιονική Τέχνη” (The Ionian Art), “Κερκυραϊκή Ηχώ” (Corfiot Echo), “Το Μέλλον” (The Future), that left their imprint in the Heptanesian societies, as well as issues of the literary and historical journal “Αι Μούσαι” (The Muses), published in Zakynthos by Leonidas Zois, which featured, from time to time, well-known Heptanesian scholars, such as Panagiotis Chiotis, Spyridon De Viazi, Marianna Dendrinou, Andreas Avouris and many others.
Quite significant for the literary tradition of the Ionian Islands, is a series of political satirical publications, such as the “Ζιζάνιον” (the Imp) by the poet Georgios Molfetas, which, according to its subtitle was “a satirical perfetta, always written in the verses of Molfeta”, or “Η Σφήκα” (The Wasp), one of the most famous satyrical newspapers by Panagiotis Panas. This newspaper was met with success in Kefalonia in the period 1867-1876. Alexandros Koumoundouros, the Prime Minister, Lomvardos, the leader of the United Radical Party, and Aristotelis Valaoritis were often satirised. It also featured letters and poems by Andreas Laskaratos, and Mikelis and Georgios Avlichos. Moreover, the collection includes some issues of the “rival” newspapers “Ο Καθρέπτης” (The Mirror) by I.D. Pierris and “Κώδων” (The Bell) by Iakovos Polylas, as well as other Heptanesian political satirical publications.
Some issues of the magazine “Εύα Νικήτρια” (Victorious Eve) are also included in the Reading Society’s collection, significant for researchers in the field of women’s publications and Greek female authors. It was published by Marietta Giannopoulou (Minotou) in 1921 in Zakynthos at a young age and it acted as an instrument of the branch of Lyceum of Greek Women in Zakynthos. She would later describe this action of hers as a young lady, as “the first outbreak of her revolutionary thinking”.