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The University of Southampton

HIST3245 A Short History of the Communication Network

Module Overview

Access to a global network of communications is something we take for granted in the 21st century. But, we are constantly warned about about the need to be alert to the dangers of 'fake news', 'data farming' and the invasion of privacy that can result. In this module you will explore the historical roots of communication systems and we will discuss the many controversies surrounding these. You will examine in this module how most of the communication networks that develop from the late 18th century onwards do so by piggy-backing on the state, take the emergence of postal systems as an example. The distribution of knowledge is then able to accelerate due to technological changes such as the emergence of new media and transportation and it is important to explore these. But you will also consider what these developments mean for how people communicate with each other, how is knowledge shared and how does this lead to state-led systems for the acquiring and developing of information. Comparisons will be drawn with non-Western and pre-18th century contexts to develop an understanding of the significance of the history of the communication network.

Aims and Objectives

Learning Outcomes

Knowledge and Understanding

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

  • How communications have been shaped by structures since the late eighteenth century.
  • The role played by new media in establishing the communications network.
  • Understand the impacts of networked communication for the people who use it (and those who don't).
Subject Specific Intellectual and Research Skills

Having successfully completed this module you will be able to:

  • Explain the historical contexts for the development of communications networks.
  • Develop a research topic on the communications network using primary sources.
Transferable and Generic Skills

Having successfully completed this module you will be able to:

  • Reflect on your learning and understanding across the module.
  • Closely analyse a wide range of source material.
  • Communicate your ideas in written form


Indicative topics that may be discussed include: - how groups communicate - the role of new media - the development of distribution networks - gender and communications - ownership of information, intellectual property and copyright - the Penny Post scandal - Facebook and data farming - the distribution of 'fake news'

Learning and Teaching

Teaching and learning methods

Teaching methods include: Lectures introducing the key topics Small-group seminars to discuss primary sources and secondary readings Individual essay tutorials Learning methods include: Close analysis of a range of primary sources Extensive reading of secondary and theoretical literature Development of a learning journal to track progress on the module across the semester Research for and production of an analytical essay

Guided independent study125
Total study time150

Resources & Reading list

M. Poe (2011). A History of Communication: Media and Society from the Evolution of Speech to the Internet. 

M. Noll (2007). The Evolution of Media. 

R. Wenzlhuemer (2013). Connecting the Nineteenth-Century World: the Telegraph and Globalization. 

M. Hilmes (2011). Network Nations: A Transnational History of American and British Broadcasting. 



MethodPercentage contribution
Essay  (3000 words) 50%
Learning journal  (2500 words) 50%


MethodPercentage contribution
Assessment tasks 100%

Repeat Information

Repeat type: Internal & External

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