Last updated: May 15, 2014

Last updated: May 15, 2014
Faculty of Social Sciences
History of Communications
Lecturer: Dr. Avital Pilpel
Year: 2014-2015
Course type: BA Seminar
Semester: 1st
Credit: 1 annual credit
Office Hours: TBA
Course Goals
We will learn how communication media, from writing to the internet, changed our lives – and how
society changed them back. For example, how writing made empires possible, or the internet
made dictatorships more difficult to maintain, but – on the other hand – also how social events
(WWI, the Protestant revolution) affected communications (development of radio, spread of print,
respectively). Finally, we deal also how different media reacted to challenges from new media
(press reacting to radio, radio to TV, TV to the internet…).
There are two "big" ways to understand the society-media relationship. The first is the "modern"
view – that a new medium allows information to spread to new groups, and this new information,
about the objective world "out there", creates changes – i.e., print allowing Luther's criticism of the
Catholic Church to spread quickly leading to revolution, or the internet allowing citizens of
dictatorships to get information about life outside their country. The second is the "postmodern"
view – McLuhan, for example, is a famous advocate of it – which argues that the medium is the
message – i.e., it creates reality. For example, for him, the Vietnam war was fought in America's
living room – since that's where TVs brought it – not in South East Asia. We will not, of course,
declare dogmatically which view is "right", but will give both sides.
Course Content
Generally, reading will be given before class and a powerpoint presentation given in class that will
add to the reading, in particular in terms of trying to understand the philosophical and worldview
significance of the new medium discussed during every point of the course.
Lesson 1: Introduction. Why communication history is the history of civilization as such. Invention
of Language. The differences between mass and "private" media.
Dominick, Historical and Cultural Context (ch. 3, 51-53)
McLuhan, Media hot and Cold (From Understanding Media), 38-45.
Poe, Homo Loquens (ch. 1, 26-52)
Wade,Nicholas. Phonetic Clues Hint Language is African-Born.
New York Times, April 15th, p. A1.
Lessons 2-3: Mass communications in the ancient world: the invention of writing. Sumeria,
Babylon, Egypt, China; later developments – Greece and Rome. Technology of writing: from
tokens and clay tablets to papyrus, paper, and ink.
Dominick, Historical and Cultural Content (ch. 3, 53-55)
Poe, Homo Scriptor, (ch. 2, 66-77, 79-84
Fischer, From Notches to Tables (ch.1, 22-35); Talking Art (42-67)
McLuhan, The Gutenberg Galaxy, selections (11-28)
Lessons 4-5: Losing our minds and coming to our senses. The "dark ages" after the fall of Rome –
ages without mass communications, without writing. The high and late middle ages as a return to
sanity – the reemergence of writing, reemergence of national and international communication
Selections from the Talmud, old manuscripts, etc. TBA
Poe, Homo Scriptor (ch. 2, 91-94).
McLuhan, The Gutrenberg Galaxy, selections (about Manuscript culture, 82-99)
Lessons 6-8: Print and its effects. The invention of the printed book, the magazine, and the
newspaper. Developments in print: the newspaper from the age of the broadsheet to the age of the
internet site; the 19th century industrial revolution and its effect on print (the steam press, the
paperback); new developments – ebooks, the internet as a text. Print as a source of knowledge:
the academic journal, readers' communities.
McLuhan, The Gutenberg Galaxy (about print culture, 'The Gutenberg Galaxy' proper: 124-128,
Poe, Homo Lector (ch. 3, 115-151).
Dominick, {outline and ch. 4 (invention of print / newspapers), 55-58, 81-93}. & following pages.
Lessons 9-10: The "Long 19th century" (1789-1914): Annihilating distance with
the telegraph and the telephone; the photograph. The telegraph, telephone, and their precursors –
tum tum drums, semaphore, bonfires on hilltops, smoke signals. What was their effect on society in
war and peace? The history of photography – from the early photographs to the digital camera: the
invention of the negative, the film, color photography, digital photography. How the photograph and
the telegraph became power—multiplying mass communication forces through the newspapers.
Dominick, Media: Mass and Other Forms (ch. 1).
Dominick, {ch. 4, 81-93 (continued)}.
McLuhan, Understanding Media, (ch. 20, The Photograph: the Brothel without Walls, 173-181)
McLuhan, Understanding Media, (ch. 25, Telegraph, 217-232)
Lessons 11-12: Radio, television, and movies: the end of the Gutenberg Galaxy.
Radio – from Hertz, Maxwell and Marconi to satellite radio. The radio as a "global village".
Movies – silent films, talkies, color films, 3D, Imax, etc. The fight with TV. Movies – the new
TV – black and white, living color, satellite transmission, cable TV, HDTV. Effect on society –
"Amusing ourselves to death", "57 channels and nothing's on" (Bruce Springsteen). Is TV really
that bad?
Dominick, Radio (ch. 7 149-155); Motion Pictures (ch. 9); Broadcast Television (ch. 10 227-231).
Poe, Homo Videns (ch. 4, 153-201).
Troy, Gil. The Living Room Candidate: Presidential Campaign Commercials/ 1952-2004. Journal of
American History 91(4).
McLuhan, Television: The Timid Giant; Radio: The Tribal Drum (chs. 31/32 from Understanding
Media, 259-294).
Hoikalla et al. Wait a Minute Mr. Postman! Acta Sociologica 1987 (30), 1:87-99.
Rozack, Theodore. The Summa Popologica of Marshal McLuhan.In New Politics (sept. 1996), 2229.
Jackaway. The Press-Media Battle (ch. 2 of Media at War, 11-34).
Lessons 13-14: The internet. Beginnings; email; HTML invention of the web; the new internet of
social networks and mobile devices. Kirkegaard about the internet – is it worldview changing effect
on us the same as the one mass printing had before? How "old" media reacted to the internet.
Kirkegaard, Soren. The Present Age. In The Present Age and of the Difference Between a Genius
and an Apostle, p. 31-86.
Dominick, The Internet and the World Wide Web (ch. 12)
Poe, Homo Somnias ,(ch. 5, 222-250).
Dreyfus, Hubert. Anonymity vs. Commitment: the Dangers of Education on the Internet.
Course Duties:
Attendance Mandatory: 10% of grade..
Final Test:
The final test will include: 1. Mandatory readings taken from the course's textbooks.
2. An implementation of the material through written questions.
45% of grade
Final work:
This course is historical and philosophical. I.e., we see the similarities and differences between
media of different historical periods, on the one hand, and the difference in the analysis of the
postmodernist, "medium is the message" view, on the one hand, and the modernist, "information"
view, on the other. 45% of grade. To be submitted on the first day of semester B.
The work shall be handed in two weeks after the end of the exam period. You need to choose two
historical periods where the leading media were different, and:
1). Compare: Compare and contrast the effect of society on the media, the effect of the media on
society, or the effect of one form of media on the other, between these two periods.
2). Give an argument: Discuss which of the two views we discussed in class – the "postmodernist"
or the "modernist" – explains the similarities and differences between the two periods better, and
It is required to do research: to significantly use bibliographical material (academic articles and
books, not Wikipedia or web pages) we have not studies in class to strengthen your argument. It
is, of course, permissible to use the internet (including Wikipedia, online databases, Google
scholar, and the like) to find the original academic sources, but one must refer and use them, not
the internet pages.
The work should be, generally, about 6-10 pages including an introduction and a bibliography (that
is, about 4-8 pages for the comparison and argument themselves). Length is by no means
necessarily an indication of quality, but is given here as a general guide. That is, a six-page work is
not necessarily at all "worse" than a 10-page one; but if your work is less than 5 pages, you are
probably not going into enough detail in one of your sections, while if you're writing more than 12
pages or so, you are probably not focused, repeating yourself, or are just unclear.
I remind you of Pascal's apology to a friend: "I am sorry this letter is so long, I haven't had the time
to go over it and make it shorter".
Example of possible topics:
1). Comparing and contrasting the verbal, non-literate society of the village before printing (or
writing) to that of the verbal, non-literate society of radio's "global village". In what way are they
similar and in what way are they different? What would McLuhan say about the similarities and
differences and what would modernist critics say? Who do you think is more correct (or who gives
a better explanation of some aspects of the similarities and differences and who gives better
explanation of other aspects)?
2). Compare and contrasting the distance annihilating telegraph to the similarly distance
annihilating internet (or, conversely, the previous distance annihilating semaphore, tum-tum drums,
etc.) -- similarly, adding the "postmodernists" and "modernist" analysis and deciding who gives a
better explanation of the similarities and differences.
3). Compare and contrast the ways newspapers fought with the new invention, the radio, to the
way they fought with the new invention, the internet, 80 years later.
4). Compare and contrast the way newspapers effected our worldview and the way the internet did,
according to the modernist view and the postmodernist view.
Note: as with all such courses, it is possible the reading assignment will slightly change, based on
the course's evolution.
Books: Selections from:
Dominick, Joseph (1999). Dynamics of Mass Communication: Media in Transition. Columbus, OH:
McGraw-Hill Companies. (Textbook #1)
302.23 DOM d3 (154171) – 3rd edition
302.23 DOM d4 (217152) – 4th edition – Translation library
Poe, Marshal T. (2011). History of Communications: Media and Society from the Evolution of
Speech to the Internet. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. (Textbook #2)
302.209 POE h (1208663)
Fischer, Steven Roger (2001). A History of Writing. London, UK: Reaktion Books LTD.
Jackaway, Gwenyth L. (1995). Media at War: Radio's Challenge to the Newspapers 1924-1939.
West Port: Prager Publishers.
McLuhan, Marshal (1962/1966). The Gutenberg Galaxy: The making of typographic man. Toronto,
Canada: University of Toronto Press.
001.51 MAC-LUN g (385622) – Economics library
McLuhan, Marshal (1964/1966). Understanding Media The Extension of a Man. New York: Signet.
Reserved under MAC-LUH (185000)
Postman, Neil (1985/2005). Amusing Ourselves to Death: Public Discourse in the Age of Show
Business. London, UK: Penguin Books
302.234 POS a (282397)
Selection of other reading (academic articles, essays, newspaper articles, etc. – more TBA):
Dreyfus, Hubert. Anonymity vs. Commitment: the Dangers of Education on the Internet.
Educational Philosophy and Theory 34(3).
Ejournal (143470)
Hoikalla et al. Wait a Minute Mr. Postman! Some Critical Remarks on Neil Postman's Childhood
Theory. Acta Sociologica 30(1).
Ejournal (115575)
Kirkegaard, Soren (1962). The Present Age and of the Difference Between a Genius and an
Apostle. New-York, NY:Harper Tourchbooks Harper & Row Publishers.
198.9 KIE p (446373) – English and Philosophy libraries
Rozack, Theodore. The Summa Popologica of Marshal McLuhan. In Rosenthal (ed.): McLuhan:
Pro and Con. Baltimore: Penguin, 1969.
Troy, Gil. The Living Room Candidate: Presidential Campaign Commercials 1952-2004. Journal of
American History 91(4).
Ejournal (154843)
Wade,Nicholas. Phonetic Clues Hint Language is African-Born. NYT 14/4/2011
More TBA.
Some Web Pages: