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Postal Systems

John, Richard R.

Postal systems are administratively coordinated communication networks that originated in antiquity, yet remain important today. During their 4000-year history, they have changed significantly, making it hard to generalize about their scale, scope, and accessibility. Until fairly recently, for example, postal systems often conveyed people in addition to information and goods. Most surveys of the world’s postal systems are institutional genealogies. Postal systems beget one another in a grand procession of names, places, and dates. Such an approach has the merit of bringing together a wealth of anecdotal material, not easily found elsewhere. Yet, it exaggerates continuity, discourages systematic comparison, and obscures the role of the postal system as an agent of change. This article takes a comparative institutional approach. The world’s postal systems are divided into three groups: imperial, corporate, and national. The section on National Postal Systems is subdivided into three parts: early national postal systems, postal reform, and postal systems in the twentieth and twenty-first century. The article concludes with a brief discussion of postal systems and social science, with some suggestions for future research.


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International Encyclopedia of the Social and Behavioral Sciences, 2nd edition

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August 1, 2018