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Global Communications

Tworek, Heidi J. S.; John, Richard R.

The harnessing of steam and electricity in the mid-nineteenth century created a new world of possibilities in business, politics, and public life. In no realm was this transformation more momentous than in communications, an activity commonly understood at this time to embrace not only the trans-local circulation of information, but also the long-distance transportation of people and goods (Matterlart 1996, 2000). For the first time in world history, merchants could convey overseas large quantities of goods on a regular schedule and exchange information at a speed greater than a ship could sail. New organizations sprang up to take advantage of this "communications revolution," as this transformation has come to be known (John 1994). Some were public agencies; others were private firms. Each was shaped not only by the harnessing of new energy sources, but also by the institutional rules of the game. These rules defined the relationship of the state and the market, or what economic historians call the political economy.

This chapter surveys this transformation, which we have come to view with fresh eyes following the commercialization of the Internet in the 1990s. It features case studies of two well-documented global communications organizations that originated in the nineteenth century - undersea cable companies and news agencies - which we have supplemented by a brief discussion of other important global communications organizations: radio, telephony, and the mail. We have not surveyed film, a topic addressed by Peter Miskell's chapter in this Handbook.


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The Routledge Companion to the Makers of Global Business

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September 9, 2019
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