The University of Southampton

HIST1178 The Nineteenth-Century Revolution in Communication

Module Overview

The tools of modern communication are omnipresent in our lives, and the speed with which these technologies change is breath-taking. Yet this is far from the first revolution in communication. The nineteenth century witnessed equally dramatic and far-reaching changes. At their heart were the invention of new technologies, such as those for copying documents, printing three decker novels and engravings, or the discovery of photography; organisational reforms that permitted an increased volume and speed of communication, and engendered the creation of a postal culture ‒ in turn facilitated by the arrival of railways; and new systems that shaped the intellectual processes of knowledge creation. This module considers these changes particularly in Britain, but with reference to the wider world as well: from the approaches of governments to managing information (in 1827 the British government spent a total of £30 on copying equipment), to the impact on ordinary people, sending letters, Valentines, Christmas cards and picture postcards (in 1852, 411 million letters went through the post, five times as many as in 1839). One of the biggest changes was in who was communicating: there was a vast growth in middle- and lower-class correspondence; learning to write was now a part of general education, and that many women could write brought about a major social change: anyone might write to them and they might now, in turn, write to anybody. Photography brought foreign lands close to home; and cartes de visite left a special souvenir of a caller. The revolution had a profound impact on the organisation of knowledge: from works of description, like encyclopaedias and maps, to the systemisation and analysis that accompanied dictionaries and the classification of species.

Aims and Objectives

Module Aims

To examine the significance of communications in the nineteenth century. To analyse the social impact of the revolution in communications. To consider government responses to the new technology in communications. To explore the impact of the revolution in communications for historians of the nineteenth century.

Learning Outcomes

Knowledge and Understanding

Having successfully completed this module, you will be able to demonstrate knowledge and understanding of:

  • What new technologies were developed during the nineteenth century.
  • The main audiences for the communications revolution and how they utilised the new technologies.
  • The impact of the revolution in communications on the organisation of knowledge.
  • The relationship between the rise of education and the revolution in communications.
Subject Specific Intellectual and Research Skills

Having successfully completed this module you will be able to:

  • Becoming familiar with the holdings of the archives and Special Collections at the Hartley Library in relation to the theme of the communications revolution.
  • Identifying the different audiences for the new technologies in communication.
Transferable and Generic Skills

Having successfully completed this module you will be able to:

  • The critical analysis of a range of primary sources.
  • Assessing a number of different historians approaches.
  • Constructing an argument that is well supported by evidence.


Seminars will be based around a series of case studies which may include: Photography Sending and Receiving Cards Encyclopedias The Postal Service Printing and Copying

Learning and Teaching

Teaching and learning methods

Lectures Student-led seminars Session based in Hartley Library Archives and Special Collections

Completion of assessment task50
Independent Study20
Preparation for scheduled sessions36
Total study time150

Resources & Reading list

Headrick, D., When Information Came of Age: Technologies of Knowledge in the Age of Reason (2000). 

Schwartz J. M. and J. R. Ryan, eds, Picturing Place: Photography and the Geographical Imagination (2003). 

Durham Peters, J., Speaking into the Air: A History of the Idea of Communication (1999). 

Beauchamp, K., History of Telegraphy: Its Technology and Application (2001). 

Briggs, A., Victorian Things (1988). 



MethodPercentage contribution
Commentary exercise  (1000 words) 20%
Essay  (2000 words) 40%
Exam  (1 hours) 40%


MethodPercentage contribution
Commentary exercise  (1000 words) 20%
Essay  (2000 words) 40%
Exam  (1 hours) 40%

Repeat Information

Repeat type: Internal & External

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