Newsletter of the Mercurians

In lieu of the usual book reviews, we have decided to conduct an experiment. The following is an annotated list of selected books recently published in the field of the history of communications technology. The idea is that the annotated list is more useful than just a list of new books, because it provides more information. This format lacks the personal touch of a reviewer, but it allows us to publish information about more books, thereby making the exercise more valuable (hopefully) to you, the reader. We are interested in knowing what you think about this innovation, so please send your comments to:

Networking the World, 1794-2000.
By Armand Mattelart. Trans. Liz Carey-Libbrecht and James A. Cohen.
Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2000. Pp. 160. $16.95 (paper).

Armand Mattelart is a prolific and important thinker and writer about communications and its impact on society and culture. Currently he is professor of information and communication sciences at the Université de Paris-VIII, Saint-Denis. Among the nearly thirty books that he has written, some of his more noteworthy works (and this list is not intended to be inclusive) include: How to Read Donald Duck: Imperialist Ideology in the Disney Comic (with Ariel Dorfman, 1975); Advertising International: The Privatisation of Public Space (1991); Rethinking Media Theory: Signposts and New Directions (with Michčle Mattelart, trans. James A. Cohen and Marina Urquidi, 1992); The Invention of Communication (1996); and Information Society: An Introduction (2003). I first encountered M. Mattelart’s work in the form of a report he wrote with the famous semiologist Yves Stourdzé to the French Minister for Research and Industry: (1982; English edition 1985).

The University of Minnesota Press recently released his Networking the World, 1794-2000, a history of global networks and their implications today. Our age of satellites, the Internet, and worldwide communications has seen no end to hype about the librating possibilities of international networks. Armand Mattelart argues that this rhetoric is hardly new and supports his case by placing contemporary global communication networks into historical context. He shows that both globalization and its attendant hype have existed since the road, and later the rail, became the fastest way to move information. Thus, the networking of the world began much earlier than many assume, namely in the late eighteenth century.

According to Mattelart, such Enlightenment ideals as universalism and liberalism spawned the internationalization of communication. He also examines how the development of global communications has been inextricably linked to the industrial revolution, modern warfare, and the emergence of nationalism. Throughout, Mattelart maintains that discourses of better living through globalization often mask projects of political, economic, and cultural domination, a theme that runs through many of his earlier books.

Liz Carey-Libbrecht is a freelance translator living in France. James A. Cohen is professor of political science at the Université de Paris-VIII, Saint-Denis and at the Institut d'Etudes Politiques de Paris.