In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Communication History

  • Introduction
  • General Overviews
  • Textbooks
  • Research Guides
  • Journals
  • International and Comparative Studies

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Communication Communication History
Richard B. Kielbowicz
  • LAST REVIEWED: 11 September 2023
  • LAST MODIFIED: 30 August 2016
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199756841-0027


All aspects of communication have historical dimensions. Historians of communication thus have a wide purview, studying the role of technology, institutional developments in the media, the production of messages, the reciprocal influences of communication and society, and much more. These studies—numbering in the tens of thousands—range from antiquarian accounts of single newspapers to expansive investigations of communication’s role in the rise and fall of civilizations. Eclectic in their research approaches, communication historians draw on the concepts and tools used in both the social sciences and the humanities. As social scientists, communication historians investigate broad patterns across time; some findings emphasize change, while others highlight continuity. As a humanistic endeavor, communication history considers unique events, persons, and developments—the contingencies that confound tidy social-scientific generalizations. Although communication history stands as a subdiscipline in its own right, it also serves as a valuable complement to nonhistorical inquiries. Many scholars use history as a backdrop for studies about contemporary issues in communication.

General Overviews

Overviews of the field take many forms. Encyclopedias such as Blanchard 1998 can serve as a good entry point to the literature. Recent studies often use communication networks and technology as their overarching theme. Lubar 1993 provides accessible discussions of each major communication innovation, while Chandler and Cortada 2000 emphasizes the social and especially economic consequences of technologies. Carey 1989 and Czitrom 1982 combine an interest in technology with intellectual and cultural history. Starr 2004 moves political decisions to center stage in analyzing the development of communication. Edited works such as Solomon and McChesney 1993 suggest the varied themes tackled by communication historians.

  • Blanchard, Margaret A., ed. 1998. History of the mass media in the United States. Chicago: Fitzroy Dearborn.

    Possibly a first stop when starting a research project, this encyclopedia features nearly five hundred entries on individuals, technologies, businesses, and issues that figured prominently in media history. A thorough index and ample cross-references facilitate use. Each entry lists references for further reading.

  • Carey, James W. 1989. Communication as culture: Essays on media and society. Boston: Unwin Hyman.

    Reprints essays by one of the most insightful and original communication historians. One section focuses on communication as culture; another, following in the tradition of Harold Innis, highlights enduring patterns of media technologies in transforming culture.

  • Chandler, Alfred D., Jr., and James W. Cortada, eds. 2000. A nation transformed by information: How information has shaped the United States from colonial times to the present. New York: Oxford Univ. Press.

    Essays by scholars from several fields emphasize the antecedents of today’s information age. Strong coverage of people’s 19th-century information environments and transformations wrought by computers and communication in the 20th century.

  • Czitrom, Daniel J. 1982. Media and the American mind: From Morse to McLuhan. Chapel Hill: Univ. of North Carolina Press.

    A clever balance of technological and intellectual history. One part addresses popular reactions to telegraphy, motion pictures, and broadcasting; another analyzes the contributions to understanding communication of John Dewey, Robert Park, Harold Innis, Marshall McLuhan, and behavioral scientists.

  • Lubar, Steven. 1993. InfoCulture: The Smithsonian book of information age inventions. Boston: Houghton Mifflin.

    Written to accompany a Smithsonian exhibition on the roots of the modern information revolution, this lavishly illustrated book focuses on technologies. Each chapter traces a medium from its origins to modern forms and includes easy-to-understand technical explanations of how it works.

  • Solomon, William S., and Robert W. McChesney, eds. 1993. Ruthless criticism: New perspectives in U.S. communication history. Minneapolis: Univ. of Minnesota Press.

    Early works by fourteen of today’s most accomplished communication historians. The essays suggest the almost boundless range of the field—public sphere analysis, the local press, labor issues, media for minority audiences, communication policy, television in diplomacy, and more.

  • Starr, Paul. 2004. The creation of the media: Political origins of modern communications. New York: Basic Books.

    Partly responding to recent scholarship that highlights technology as the source of most fundamental changes in communication, Starr instead looks at key political decisions. He ranges over print, telecommunication, film, and broadcasting through World War II and contrasts the American experience with developments in Europe.

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