Proposal preview

Communications and Globalization since 1850: Nations, Empires, Firms

The commercialization of the Internet has prompted an outpouring of creative scholarship on pre-Internet communications networks. Much of this work has questioned the pronouncements of technology enthusiasts that we are entering a global age in which the nation is no longer a weighty political actor. Our papers are informed by this critique. To what extent have transnational communications networks been “tools of empire,” as Daniel R. Headrick famously contended? Might they, alternatively, have followed a space-transcending capitalist logic of the kind that Dwayne Winseck and Robert Pike has explored? To what extent are these networks best understood through the lens of the firm? How have they shaped vital nation-transcending institutions, such as the provisioning of news?

To engage these questions, the organizers have tapped both established and rising scholars to present papers and give comments. The participants hail from eight countries on three continents who are based at thirteen different institutions and range from graduate students to emeritus professors.

We decided to submit this paper in the second round, having noticed that no panel dealing specifically with communications networks had been proposed. We believe that this topic deserves to be included in a program whose theme is “waves of globalization” and set about assembling the strongest group of international scholars that we could. Brief paper descriptions are included an appendix.

Each of the papers engages these questions from the standpoint of historical institutionalism. That is, they emphasize the interplay between specific businesses, governments, and occupational groups. An effort has been made to expand our ambit beyond the three countries that have often figured most prominently in recent scholarly debates on this topic—namely, the United Kingdom, France, and the United States. For example, two papers focus on Germany (one of which also deals with Latin America and Asia), a third is primarily concerned with institutional transformations originating in Africa, while a fourth analyzes recent Chinese investments in Africa.

Our session is divided into two ninety-minute segments, divided by topic. The first considers telecommunications and satellites; the second, telegraphy, wireless, and the provisioning of news.
Here is a list of the participants in alphabetical order (all confirmed):

Sanne Aagaard Jensen, University of Copenhagen, Denmark,
James R. Brennan, University of Illinois, United States,
Jiang Chang, Tsinghua University, China,
Pascal Griset, Sorbonne, France,
Daniel R. Headrick, Roosevelt University (emeritus), United States,
Richard R. John, Columbia University, United States,
Leonard Laborie, CNRS, France,
Andreas Marklund, ENIGMA, Denmark,
Simone M. Müller, LMU-Munich, Germany,
Timothy Sheng-chi Shu, Cambridge University, United Kingdom,
Hugh Slotten, University of Otago, New Zealand,
Heidi J. S. Tworek, University of British Columbia, Canada,
Dwayne Winseck, Carleton University, Canada,


  • Richard R. John, Columbia University,, United States
  • Pascal Griset, Sorbonne,, France
  • Simone M. Muller, LMU-Munich,, Germany

Session members

  • Dwayne Winseck, Carleton University,
  • Simone M. Muller, LMU-Munich,
  • Timothy Sheng-chi Shu, Cambridge University,
  • Heidi J. S. Tworek, University of British Columbia,
  • James R. Brennan, University of Illinois,
  • Pascal Griset, Sorbonne,
  • Andreas Marklund, ENIGMA-Museum of Communication,
  • Sanne A. Jensen, University of Copenhagen,
  • Hugh Slotten, University of Otago,
  • Leonard Laborie, CNRS,
  • Jiang Chang, Tsinghua University,

Proposed discussant(s)

  • Daniel R. Headrick, Roosevelt University (emeritus),
  • Richard R. John, Columbia University,
  • Heidi Tworek, University of British Columbia,

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