Europe—Connected? The Challenges of the Communications Revolution
We live in a networked age, in a world bound together by the internet, social media, smartphones, trains, planes and (soon-to-be driverless) cars. How did we get here? Have these innovations brought us closer together, or pushed us further apart? What is the place of the individual, society, and the state in this growing web of interconnections? Are we witnessing the end of politics as we know it? What is the future of Europe in an era of globalisation? These are pressing questions for our times; but they are not new. Overwhelmed as we are by the relentless acceleration of communication and transport, it is easy to forget that the pace of life has been growing for the past two centuries—at least. In this discussion, we will delve into the history of the communications revolution that first gripped Europe during the nineteenth century, and picked up speed in the twentieth. We will consider the new technologies—from railways to radios—which many contemporaries heralded as the ‘annihilators’ of distance, but which were simultaneously forging new divisions within and between societies.
Jean-Michel Johnston is a Fellow and Lecturer in Modern European History at Fitzwilliam College, University of Cambridge. His research centres on the history of communications in modern Europe, and the role of networks in shaping states and societies. His latest book explored the development of telegraphy in nineteenth-century Germany, and he is currently working on an AHRC-funded project examining the collapse of empires in the wake of WWI, with a particular focus on the fate of infrastructure. This research will ultimately lead to a broader publication on the history of the communications revolution from the 19th to the 21st Century. Jean-Michel Johnston is also a former British Section student.