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New Communications Technologies

This annotated bibliography covers scholarship on the history and influence of new communication technologies. The term "new" is used in a historical sense, which is to say that all technologies were at one time new. For example, innovations in timekeeping, the reproduction of visual images, and Johann Gutenberg's invention of printing with movable metal type were new in the context of the period between the thirteenth and mid-fifteenth centuries and they helped to make possible the modern world. This bibliography attempts to cover both very old and very recent developments in communications, and in so doing to place the rapid changes of our modern-day world into historical perspective.

Scholars have suggested that changes in communication can often have profound historical consequences, challenging established values as well as economic and power structures, altering the way we organize, indeed, perhaps even transforming the way we think. Some speculate that empires rise and fall as a result of these innovations. If we look at Gutenberg's invention now more than five centuries removed from our own time, we can see that the printing press set in motion changes that were of enormous historical importance not only for Western Civilization but for the entire world. It greatly increased the volume of printed material, was a catalyst in the Protestant Reformation, in the rise of science, capitalism, nationalism, and democratic government. It freed scholars from rote memory and stimulated creative thought in many areas. It altered our relationship with history and how we experience the past.

What do we make, though, of the many achievements of more recent times? Forget for a moment the latest developments in digital computing and consider a few of the many achievements of the nineteenth century. The advent of steam power, photography, and the electric telegraph during the first half of the nineteenth century were but precursors of even more stunning advances in the later half of that century. The phonograph (which made it possible for the first time to capture sound), the telephone, the electric light and the spread of an electrical network, moving pictures, and the wireless had by 1900 laid the foundation for much of twentieth century living. These innovations in communication were part and parcel of the Industrial Revolution and they helped to facilitate the shift from rural to urban living, and the transition from traditional to modern thinking. Taken together, these developments amounted to one of the great divides in human experience.<more>