In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section History of Global Media

  • Introduction
  • Navigating the Field: Resources and Journals
  • General Overviews
  • The Telegraph and Global Communications, 19th to Mid-20th Centuries
  • News in the Age of Colonial Empires, 1850s to 1950s
  • Media in the Colonial and Postcolonial World I: Asia and the Middle East
  • Media in the Colonial and Postcolonial World II: Africa
  • Media Histories of Latin America
  • Media and the Cold War

Communication History of Global Media
Sönke Kunkel
  • LAST REVIEWED: 26 February 2020
  • LAST MODIFIED: 26 February 2020
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199756841-0243


Inspired by the “global turn” in the humanities and social sciences, the history of global media has developed into a burgeoning interdisciplinary field in recent years and now integrates a wide spectrum of diverse approaches and disciplines, ranging from media and communication studies over political science to history. This article reviews particularly the newer historical scholarship which has seen a major rise of output in recent years and has added much new empirical insight to the field. The focus is especially on works covering the 19th and 20th centuries and it concentrates first on newer works on global telegraphy and news agencies as well as on broader overviews. The second part of this article then maps works on the classic mass media in Africa, Asia, and Latin America: print, radio, and television, with a few glimpses toward cinema. It concludes with a section on the Cold War. Global media history means three things in the context of this article: (1) the history of media as global connectors and forces of globalization that enabled and promoted transnational flows of news, texts, pictures, information, ideas, and lifestyles; (2) the history of mass media in regions beyond the United States and Europe; and (3) the history of the ways in which governments and other historical actors used media to promote cross-national and international connections, messages, and interactions. The underlying understanding here, then, is that writing global media history involves as much a specific perspective on entanglements and interconnections as it is a programmatic effort to decenter existing European and US-centered national historiographies and enrich those with Latin American, African, and Asian experiences. The first studies on global media already appeared in the 1960s and 1970s. Mostly written by social scientists and communication scholars under contract by governments or UNESCO (United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization), those works mapped the contemporary media environments of African, Asian, and Latin American countries, but usually also touched on historical developments. Common themes of those works were the media policies of the postcolonial state and the charge of cultural imperialism. Genuinely historical works on global mass media only began appearing from the mid-1980s on and initially focused on the interrelationships between diplomacy and global communications. Since the 2000s the historical study of global media has gradually broadened, and now overlaps considerably with other fields such as imperial history, business history, the history of public diplomacy and propaganda, and even ocean studies, making it a highly dynamic and fast-growing field.

Navigating the Field: Resources and Journals

Global media history has many outlets these days, and much recent work is published in journals that do not necessarily specialize in media history, including the Journal of Global History, History and Technology, or journals with a more regional focus. Readers looking for newer works that go beyond the scope of this bibliography may therefore find it most productive to go through academic databases first, many of which have indexed and made searchable journal articles across the disciplines of history and communication studies. There are also a number of specialized journals for media historians, however, and those increasingly treat global perspectives. Among those, The Historical Journal of Film, Radio and Television is one of the oldest, followed by Media History which has been published since the 1990s. Journalism Studies, too, often includes historical pieces. Many media historians are organized in the International Association for Media and History whose blog often features book reviews and news about recent developments in the field, and thus is another useful resource for a first contact with global media history.

  • The Historical Journal of Film, Radio and Television. 1980–.

    The leading journal on the international and global history of media. Published four times a year, the journal features research articles and a very extensive book review section. Though an emphasis is often on transatlantic media, journal issues usually also feature items of interest for global media historians. Most recommended as a resource.

  • History and Technology. 1983–.

    The focus of this journal is the history of technology, defined in a broad sense. Issues often cover essays on media technologies and mass communications, ranging from the telegraph to the telephone. There is a certain predominance of research articles on technologies in the Western world, but the non-Western world gets a fair share of treatment as well.

  • International Association for Media and History

    The most important professional association for media historians, bringing them together with practitioners under one roof. The Association organizes an international conference every two years, runs a blog, and offers masterclasses for postdoctoral researchers and postgraduate students on a regular basis.

  • Journalism Studies. 2000–.

    Featuring up to twelve or more issues a year, this journal is devoted to the study of journalism in all of its aspects and dimensions. Focus is mostly on current issues, but the journal also often features historical pieces. Includes only research articles, no book reviews.

  • Journal of Global History. 2006–.

    The flagship journal for global historians. Publishes research on global history, though media history has not yet drawn much attention within its pages. Still, every now and then issues do include contributions on media history, making the journal a useful starting point for scholars interested in global media history.

  • Media History. 1993–.

    Formerly known as Studies in Newspaper and Periodical History, this interdisciplinary journal covers the broad sweep of media history from the 1500s to today, though the focus is mostly on the 19th and 20th centuries. Often publishes special issues on topics of interest. Also includes a short book review section. One of the leading journals in the field.

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