History Of Communication And Transportation Research Paper

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The history of communication refers to a broad and loosely integrated field of historical research which includes parts of the history of transport, traffic, communication, media and information techniques. It is a relatively young field and a new point of view within historical science. Some aspects have been partly studied by historians—economic historians in particular—for a long time, especially the role of new technologies in transportation and traffic, and the history of the railways, ships and automobiles, and telephone and telegraph. Since the 1970s new questions and combinations have arisen with respect to the revolution of communication (including computation, multimedia, and the Internet) and these have given an impetus to broader research.

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1. Overlapping Concepts

The term ‘communication’ was first used in England within the sectors of transport, commerce, and trade immediately before the Industrial Revolution. It was the time of extension of the road system with turnpike roads, new attempts at canal building, and improvement of the British postal system. The improvement of roads, the regulation governing the use of rivers, the erecting of canals, and improvements of coaches and cars, boats, river-and ocean-going ships, were aimed at more transport capacity, the reduction of high costs of transportation and the widening of local and regional markets to national and international dimensions. The Industrial Revolution from the 1820s onwards completed the possibilities of transportation with the construction of railroads and steamships and communication was improved by telegraph and telephone.

Today these forms of facilitating the services of commerce, trade, and tourism—including the later inventions of automobiles, progress in the building of roads, and the airplane—are described under infrastructure and its technical equipment. There is therefore an overlap between infrastructure and communication, and the last term has become more and more subsumed under the name of ‘media.’ Communication nowadays is only partly concerned with matters of transport and traffic, and there is danger of a one-sided contraction of the content of this term, because the media and media devices are only partly subsumed under infrastructure.

Economists, especially those in public finance, normally define communication and transport as a necessary prerequisite for development and growth, calling it ‘infrastructure,’ (Hirschman (1958), Tinbergen (1962), Jochimsen (1962, 1966)). Before one can produce anything for a broader market, one needs transport and communication. The term ‘infra-structure’ is a word that originally came from French railway-idiom and was adopted by NATO after World War II. Later economists used it as a new term. Good ‘material infrastructure’ includes the communication possibilities of roads, canals, railways, ships, and, of course, all media equipment. But ‘infrastructure’ includes not only ‘material infrastructure,’ it also refers to ‘immaterial infrastructure,’ or learning, education, schools at different levels, universities, research institutes etc. The role of communication in the diffusion of knowledge and information is evident. According to Kuznets (1959, 1965, 1966) the infrastructure was one of the most important prerequisites for the European Industrial Revolution. It guaranteed stable economic growth, the international and regional division of labour, and made an impact on specialization and on more, and higher economic, social and cultural integration.

Today ‘communication’ is used especially in connection with the media. The development of the media since 1970, culminating in the Internet, necessitated a new classification of all items of media techniques and their former use: from the human voice to messengers, to ballad singers or actors in a theatre; from writing, handwritten codices and letters to printing in books, pamphlets, newspapers and posters or typewriting; from pictures, drawings and paintings to photos, and since the late 1990s scanning possibilities; from messages given through drums, written on stones, papyrus, parchment and paper to transmission by telephone, telegraph, film, radio and TV, CD-Rom, DVD, the computer and the Internet. As a result, the discipline of journalism has widened its scope to all the mass media and even studies their history.

There is also an overlap with the term ‘information,’ which is especially stressed by economics and business sciences as an important outcome of communication. Since the 1960s ‘information’ has been seen as the ‘new immaterial resource’ in physiology, sociology, psychology, pedagogy, linguistics and information science, ethnology, political sciences and law, and, last but not least, in a bundle of technical sciences.

In economics, for example, it was F. A. Hayek (1968) who described markets as spontaneous net-works of information over goods and services. In a competitive market the prices make it possible to have and to use more information than normal, and of course much easier, faster, and cheaper. Market prices in normal (competitive) situations provide very precise information about shortages and abundances, qualities, monopoly and so on. Business scientists study the organization of firms and the optimization of information within the business entities and stress information as an important factor of production.

As Pool (1963) points out, communication is a fundamental necessity for human social action. There-fore we can distinguish between: (a) interpersonal communication information exchange within an individual person; (b) intrapersonal communication = information exchange between two or more persons; and (c) media-bound communication = ex-change of information between media producers and media consumers (in mass consumption). Since the 1980s communication has come to mean not only information between human beings but also between computers.

The development of communication and transportation possibilities show in the very long run a dramatic widening of the abilities and capacities of human communication. From the stages of primarily personal experience of communication by ears and eyes it shifted to a secondary system which is technically arranged and represents ‘artificial’ communication (S. Kramer (1997)). Today this ‘artificial’ communication has reached a peak in the new media possibilities of TV, the PC, and the Internet. McLuhan (1964) points out that individuals recognize their environment primarily through the media, which increasingly use the new techniques of electronically transmitting and storing information. His diagnosis is that ‘the medium is the message.’

According to N. Luhmann (1981) social systems can be defined as the possibilities of human beings (in their time-space related contexts) to take part in the experiences, procedures, and activities of the society. Their ability to participate is, however, dependent of the availability of communication and transport equipment and techniques. Religious and political barriers or facilitations, problems of economic and social inequalities and, of course, the complex of good or bad ‘property rights’ play a role.

The historical sciences, i.e., political, social, and economic history, as well as the history of technology, study the causes and consequences of the communication process from antiquity to modern times. As communication and transport are important pre-requisites of development and globalization, one has to examine very thoroughly the rise of the West to see how it obtained leadership over the East. To a large extent this leadership originates from better and new infrastructure and the organization of transportation and the media. Every step of European development since the Middle Ages can be seen in connection with the big spurts and crucial points in the improvement of each new media and in infrastructural equipment.

The European case also seems to show that, with the improvement of media and transportation, an up-grading displacement of the state and old elite went hand in hand with an increasing participation of human beings in communication. N. Elias (1939) in his famous book on civilization has pointed out the strict limitations of monopoly power in western societies. This freed the way for more and more social groups and individuals to use communication and transportation techniques. From the cursus publicus of the Roman Empire, which was only open for the purposes of the state to the new postal system at the beginning of Early Modern Times; from the cavaliers’ tours of the nobles and the commercial journeys of single merchants to mass tourism, from illiteracy to dense school systems; from the handwritten codices of the monks to Gutenberg’s Bible and Jerry Cotton; from the transport of gold, silver, silk, and amber to the transport of bulk goods over the whole globe; from the limited diffusion of knowledge and messages by fire signals, letters, etc., to a worldwide web in a ‘global village’ with ‘global information infrastructure.’

1.1 Phases Of Development In Europe

Historians and media specialists think that within western culture one can find four revolutions and periods in communication and transport development: (a) the Middle Ages (especially from eighth–fourteenth century AD); (b) the Early Modern Times (fifteenth– seventeenth century AD); (c) the onset of and then the Industrial Revolution (eighteenth–first half of the nineteenth century AD); and (d) the Communication Revolution, beginning in the last decades of the twentieth century.

  1. Weber (1896) in his famous article upon the decay of the Roman world sees one main cause of its decline in the communication and transportation complex. He argues that all ancient high civilizations from China, Mesopotamia, Egypt and the Greek world were river-and shore coastal-oriented civilizations. The failure of the Roman Empire was to go deeper and deeper into the European continent. Though the quality of Roman road building was very high and a relay system, changing tired for fresh horses, enabled people to cover distances as far as 300 km a day, the ancient cursus publicus had not enough impact on common trade, commerce, and communication, as it was not open to the common man.

The Middle Ages and the Early Modern Times in Europe found new answers and, in the long run, more stable solutions in communication, and prepared the way for the great spurt of European civilization which, from the sixteenth century onwards, left behind the older and richer civilizations of Asia. The Middle Ages from the tenth and eleventh century AD onwards developed a feudalistic system with a weak State and government, but strengthened local and regional authorities. At this time dense networks of more or less autonomous cities were created in which trade and handicraft was defined as a primary privilege of the citizens, and new, dynamic dimensions of good ‘property rights’ were introduced to the manors. New communication and information techniques and systems were tested. We can see this in regional and interregional trade with new types of merchants and new commercial institutions (such as fairs and market-places, trade guilds, commercial law, special organizational forms of storing, borrowing and changing money—all these were the outcome of perpetual communication). The consequences were a very rapid diffusion of technical knowledge in mining, architecture, handicraft, and agriculture.

This new system was also open for inventions from the Orient, the Arabs and the Islamic world, and accepted new insights from China and India. Technical inventions which revolutionized communication and transportation were the horse collar (tenth century, used in China since 450 AD) and the stirrup. From

1200 onwards the diffusion of the use of Arab numbers began and made trade much more easier. The compass and the compass needle (China 1075) at about 1200 improved navigation. Though the quality of the techniques of Roman road building could not be attained, the opening up of roads to everybody was a big improvement on the cursus publicus in the ancient Roman world. In about 1380 cities, religious orders and guilds introduced the new system of sending messages regularly and for long distances by private postal institutions.

Predominantly face-to-face communication using primarily oral means of information shifted more and more to a written-media stage. The monasteries and the first universities with already-formed libraries had a great impact on learning and knowledge. From the midst of the fourteenth century onwards the improvement of shipping on the rivers by constructing canals and canal locks began. Measuring time took on new dimensions with the invention of more precise clocks with wheels at about 1330. From the midst of the fourteenth century we can find clocks on the towers of churches. In 1510 the first pocket watches appeared.

The Early Modern Times brought about the second revolution of communication in Europe. The adoption of Chinese navigation techniques was completed; the compass freed the way for discoveries and the exploration of the New World. Trade in mass goods began. This became easier when plantations began to produce ‘fungible goods’ (like tea, coffee, cotton, and tobacco), which enabled a new trade on commodity markets.

The production and the use of paper and the idea of the movable type for printing (Johannes Gutenberg 1397–1468)—also of Chinese origin—brought about the shift from a written to a printed culture. Books now could be printed at a relatively low price and in large numbers. The woodcut print (firstly used in 1400) and the copperplate print (firstly used in 1446) now could be combined with this new printing technique. Pamphlets were printed and could be easily distributed. Political and religious controversies, teaching, and learning took on new dimensions. News- papers were introduced. The monopoly of science and information was broken up. The book became important for the unlimited storage and diffusion of information. The pamphlet was used for political discourse and opened up possibilities for participation in political and religious debates, and the newspapers opened the way to inform a growing number of readers about recent events in society.

The sovereigns of these territories reorganized their postal system and widened communication possibilities. For example in 1486 ‘Kurfurstliche Botenanstalt in Brandenburg.’ In 1490 the postal system in the German Reich was reorganized under Maximilian I, and in 1516 the Vienna–Brussels postline was introduced, while the Brussels–Rome post-line introduced in 1522 of the Thurn & Taxis Vienna-Nurenberg. The new communication advantages cleared the way for a European expansion over the Atlantic and created a second West in the New World of America.

The third revolution began before the Industrial Revolution and influenced the period up to the present day in three stages. In the first stage the mercantile system introduced more regular traffic, a regular postal system, and supported canal- and road-building. Milestones in France included the ‘Canal du Centre’ between the Loire and the Saone (1555) and the ‘Canal du Midi’ between Southern France and the Atlantic (1666–1681). Soon after, many canals in German territories, in the Dutch Lands and in England were built. The introduction of railways from the 1820s and 1830s onwards, the intensive use of steamships from the 1850s and 1860s onwards, and the common use of telegraph, telephone and the overseas cable since the 1850s–1870s marked the second step, which reached its peak in a highly integrated world economy before World War I.

The automobile and new road building, especially in the form of highways; and the victory of the street over the railway and the airplane widened communication and transportation possibilities following the interwar period. This brought greater reductions in the regional differences in prices, greater allocations of production and resources, more division of labour, mass production for wide national and foreign markets, standardization, and the unification of languages, morals, and tastes. The third step began in about 1970 with the ‘postindustrial phase’ or ‘age of information.’ The multimedia revolution brought the technical inventions of ISDN, the mobile phone (cellular phone), the fax, the PC and the Internet (www, on-line and e-mail), and digital forms of TV, broadcasting and printing. The economic consequences were e-commerce, direct banking, more foreign investment in many countries, and a very sharp decrease in the share of costs for information and transport, globalization, digital traffic engineering, and teleworking. The socio-cultural consequences were teleteaching, networked scientific community, and telemedicine.

1.2 Historiographical Trends, Further Research, And New Fields

The historiography of former times seldom studied communication and transportation. Since the turn of the nineteenth century economic history reached an independent status and transportation problems were described under the aspect of commerce. In the period before World War I in nearly all industrialized countries the first technical museums were erected. They had a great impact on the study of the history of technology and innovations, especially railways, cars, automobiles, ships, airplanes, and information devices like the telephone and telegraph. The history of technology became a new subdiscipline within economic history. In the last few decades the science of journal-ism has widened to a science of media and examines all media, especially mass media, in a historical context. Today a modern history of communication has to combine all these fields in cooperation with other social and economic disciplines.

There are, of course, many possibilities for further historical research in the field, e.g., studies into the regional, national, and worldwide diffusion of communication and transportation techniques; the social consequences of media revolutions; the impact of the media and the transport revolution on political situations and military conflicts; the access to communication and information techniques; religious and political control and inhibition of communication (censorship); the effects of the transport revolution within economic development; the role of official and nonofficial statistics in information about economies; the consequences of changing communication and transportation in mass tourism, leisure, and hobbies. Other possibilities include the rise of special cultural forms, traditions and customs concerning, for ex-ample, letter writing, traveling by coach, railroad, automobile, ship and airplane, and studies of the intensification of communication in personally writ-ten, and in digital communication.

Even completely new fields can be developed under the aegis of communication. One example may be the invention of the European ‘financial intermediation’ in banking and stock exchange. It can be seen as an important new way of communication in the economic and business sphere of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries.

How to finance firms and enterprises and how to finance states and their budgets—these are the important questions in every modern economy. In former times people who had large savings and lent to the state or to private entrepreneurs could not get back the money before the end of the agreed term. So, normally, the only possibility was to hold large stockpiles of money without being able to lend it in order to remain liquid at any one time. This problem was shared by wealthy individuals and institutions, such as insurance companies, managements of orphans’ properties, etc. No civilization before had managed these problems adequately until Europe founded new ways of communication to bring together lenders and borrowers. There are four points that stress this information and communication revolution in banking since the seventeenth century.

(a) Since the period between the fifteenth and seventeenth centuries, communication and information has improved through investment in new roads, cars, ships, canals and new media techniques. The unification and standardization of goods also brought improvement, especially through the creation of ‘fungible’ goods: where one item stands in quality for all the other pieces of this product. Markets could thus be transformed partly into markets with ‘fungible’ goods. The exchange in products for certain metals, and for certain crops, especially tropical plantation crops like cotton, tea, coffee, sugar, etc., was born. This facilitated economic communication enormously. As the qualities of these goods were defined ex ante and were well known, merchants could deal in great volumes of these goods and articles without bringing them physically to the markets. Transaction costs were thus dramatically reduced.

(b) In combination with stock exchanges the experiences with ‘fungible’ goods were transferred in the seventeenth century to the financial sector. Creating fungible bonds for the state and public authorities (instead of individual obligations for single lenders in former times which could not easily be transferred to other capitalists) pulled hidden private stockpiles of wealth into the public economy and brought the money into the hands of sovereigns and governments. This idea spread to fungible shares for enterprises. Now it became possible to erect big enterprises in the form of joint stock companies. The first joint stock companies were firms within the trading sector, followed by companies in infrastructure and communication, in the banking system and last of all in big industrial firms.

(c) The next point in this development was the improvement of the financial mediation of banks. A new type of bank developed which brought together people who had money but did not need it at the time and people who had no or too little money and wanted to make productive investments in business. The ‘goldsmith bankers’ of London were the first to succeed at this business, because they found out that the communicative role of a bank has to be the transformation of risk, of terms, and of size. Fungibility and the new communicative role of banks became the main motor for a ‘financial revolution’ as precondition of the Industrial Revolution.

(d) Since the beginning of the twenty-first century new steps in financial communication have been made, especially in the context of the PC and internet systems. New generations of financial products have arisen, including e-banking and worldwide speculations on stock exchanges.


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