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Cover of the book. Click here for the  full cover with description and blurbs.

Revolutions in Communication is  all about  the printers, reporters, photographers, filmmakers, advertisers, PR practitioners, broadcasters, computer geeks, and all manner of rebels, thinkers and visionaries who were ahead of their times,  who led the times, and who created The Times.  This critically acclaimed survey of media history is now in a second edition.

The book surveys all major communications  disciplines,  including journalism, photography, cinema, advertising & public relations, radio, television, computing and networked media.

It   is the leading media history textbook and has been widely adopted in college classrooms from NYU to USC, from Western Ontario to Florida International. It is also being used in Europe and India.

Revolutions in Communication explores four major epochs of the mass media history through the technologies that characterized their development —   printing, imaging,  broadcasting and digital media.   The book surveys all major communications  disciplines,  including journalism, photography, cinema, advertising & public relations, radio, television, computing and networked media.

The book is available  through  Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and directly from the publisher, Bloomsbury.

The historical narrative in Revolutions in Communication centers around technological change — a common thread that unites global media history. This approach also provides a much-needed alternative to nationalistic and professionally oriented narratives that have guided media history in the past.

The book points out that communication technologies change because an  older form of media does not speak in the voice of a newer generation. Innovators and  inventors then search for new forms to circumvent the older media.

This technological  circumvention is a major type of social construction of technology, and  is particularly evident in the digital revolution. However, the same threads can be found in the history of printing, imaging and broadcasting as well.  It’s the reason why the early 20th century muckrakers published in magazines,  and not newspapers. It’s the reason why the penny press was so successful in the 1830s and the press barons of the late 19th century were able to create newspaper empires.  And it is one reason why newspapers were so spectacularly unsuccessful in the first decades of the 21st century.

Even so, the more important issue now is the role of all four media revolutions in the emerging global culture.  Will this global culture finally address the needs of all people, relegating hunger and curable disease to distant memory?  Can we overcome the tendency to destroy the environment, and each other, in the name of ideologies or resource squabbles?  If so, communication will surely play a central role, and we need to understand how we arrived at this moment in history.

About the history of mass media:

It’s no longer sufficient (if it actually ever was) to simply present an isolated,  progressive, narrative history of American journalism. This is not to be critical of previous textbooks but rather to say that times are changing and, as usual, media historians are struggling to catch up.

Surely the fact that electronic and digital media have broken down international barriers must be part of any serious topical treatment of media history today.  Surely, also, the interdependent nation-state /  print media institution, with a relationship now over five centuries old,  is only one  thread of an emerging  global media history that should also include the digital communications revolution.

As Mitchell Stevens said in his Call for an International History of Journalism:

To attempt to separate the history of American journalism from developments overseas seems … as foolish as attempting to separate the history of journalism in Ohio or Kansas from what was happening in Boston, Philadelphia and New York… A kind of ignorance – which would not be tolerated in literature departments, in theater departments, in art departments, in science departments – is routinely accepted in journalism departments. American journalism history is dangerously and unflaggingly parochial.

The same  parochial nationalism is even more evident in public relations, advertising, broadcasting, and other communications fields, partly because in the past, communications history was usually valued only as career preparation.   But historians who hope to inspire future generations by honoring the heroes of the past often oversimplify and omit the mistakes and connections that provide historical lessons and paths for ongoing inquiry.

Constructing a history that even approaches both international breadth and historical depth creates a very serious problem: In a field that is already struggling to contain the size of textbooks (and student workloads), how could that be accomplished?

One solution is to take advantage of the new media that this book is designed to describe.  So this book’s web site in intended to be one focal point for an international history of the media that is already begun on a variety of collaborative web sites such as Wikipedia. Since we live in revolutionary times, we ought to reflect and model those revolutionary new modes of communication in the way communication history is taught and written.

With that in mind, students and scholars may find this book’s web site valuable for links to wikis, timelines and other resources that can enhance international and interdisciplinary understanding of the history of mass media.  The author is particularly interested in research suggestions for students and in links to essays that describe the lives of media professionals in a cultural context or as part of a professional biography.

Revolutions in Communication begins with the idea that the best way to read history is with a conceptual toolkit.  Students should have some idea of what history is all about, there are two items to begin with.  The first is a quick overview of historians who exemplify different approaches to historical research and writing.  The second is a glimpse at how historians have seen technology in general and media history in particular.

This book then proceeds on a mostly chronological basis through the four mass media revolutions: print, visual, electronic and digital.

Published in 2011, issued in a second edition in November 2015, Revolutions in Communication is being used at many universities, including:

  • Florida Atlantic University
  • Hebei University
  • Humbolt University
  • Marymount University
  • New York University
  • Radford University (Syllabus)
  • San Francisco University (Syllabus)
  • Simon Frasier University
  • St. Joseph’s University
  • University of California, Merced
  • University of California, Los Angeles, Annenberg School of Communication
  • University of Oregon (Syllabus)
  • University of Western Ontario
  • Virginia Tech

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