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Reviewed by:
  • Communicating Europe: Technologies, Information, Events by Andreas Fickers and Pascal Griset
  • James Schwoch (bio)
Communicating Europe: Technologies, Information, Events By Andreas Fickers and Pascal Griset. London: Palgrave Macmillan, 2019. Pp. 485.

It is an honor to review this magnificent contribution to the Making Europe: Technology and Transformations, 1850–2000 series previously discussed by Eda Kranakis, in the context of the seven volumes and their place in the historiography of technology, in this journal (Technology and Culture, 2021). The authors offer an expansive and detailed narrative, as well as an extensive bibliography and index, a compendium of relevant acronyms, and a huge array of maps and illustrations. A major theme of the book is "European techno-political diplomacy in information and communication technologies," from a longue duree perspective. This approach contributes to a better understanding of "European history through the lens of technology" (p. 3). Given that histories of media, communication, information technologies, infrastructures, and technical standards in Europe and elsewhere often exemplify national-level actions, developments, and decisions that lead to technological emergences, the techno-diplomacy theme and the national stories together weave a contrapuntal narrative of European communication technologies, information, and events.

The authors reach this conceptualization of transnationalism in large part via an expansive synthesis of existing work. They move beyond this synthesis primarily through framing an innovative narrative approach that accounts for both nationalism and transnational European communication and information technologies. In terms of historiography, Communicating Europe is a seminal text on communication and transnationalism, particularly for Europe. [End Page 291]

The book generally proceeds chronologically, although it is not locked into chronology, which allows for illuminating reconsiderations and new reflections on previously discussed examples, technologies, or decisions. The examples are voluminous, covering many different communication technologies, regulations, and platforms. The work affords deep attention to nation-states, individual inventors, private enterprise, financiers, and users. In some ways the profusion of examples might seem a bit encyclopedic, but the authors offer something more valuable than an encyclopedia: a contextualized narrative that brings these technologies and events into a panoramic vista encompassing 150 years of European communication. The initial chapters discuss telegraphy and undersea cables, soon followed by wireless and the radio spectrum. Subsequent chapters then take up the rise of users, particularly radio listeners, along with emergent technologies such as television. The importance of the International Broadcasting Union as a site of techno-diplomacy during the interwar years is well documented. The Cold War and propaganda are also major themes of the middle chapters. In later chapters, the book turns more centrally to computers, information processing, and data networking, without neglecting developments in broadcasting, television, and newer consumer-oriented technologies such as Minitel or the World Wide Web. The final chapter fittingly looks at mobility, and the authors call for a greater closeness, perhaps even a reunification, of transportation and communication as fields of study. This call is welcome; once routinely considered in tandem, the long estrangement of these two fields is regrettable.

Ideas and concerns that receive less attention include questions of empire and imperialism, and issues of gender such as women and computing, as Heidi Tworek noted (hsozcult.de, June 22, 2021), although there is a mention of Fanon and Radio Algeria, for example. A bit puzzling is the absence of Yugoslavia and their news media and information activities with the Non-Aligned Movement, the New World Information Order, or their participation in Telstar TV exchanges. While the book pays some attention to Marconi, less seems to be paid to Italy.

In closing, perhaps another fruitful way to critique and ponder Communicating Europe is to recognize how ably this book prepares us to consider the past as prologue for European communication in the years and decades ahead. Two questions come to mind, both of which researchers now face. One is Brexit. Is England still part of Europe? Is England still engaged in communicating Europe? Looking at the English departure from the arenas of European regulatory, scientific, and commercial techno-diplomacy activities, it is difficult to argue England is still European. The second question, monumentally crucial in comparison to the relatively minor but interesting question about England, is about communicating Europe in terms of...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1097-3729
Print ISSN
0040-165X
Pages
pp. 291-293
Launched on MUSE
2022-01-06
Open Access
No
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