Introduction

It seems only fair that if I ask every student to write a brief introduction, I should too. So here’s a little more about me (some of you know much of this already) and why I’m teaching a course on the history of media and communications.

Most importantly, my research interests are in the history of media and communications, and how those areas intersect with business and politics. My dissertation in graduate school was an examination of the printing trade in Revolutionary America, and the ways in which the business interests of printers shaped political debate. To give you the really short version, they mattered a lot, and a lot more than most historians have given them credit for (we’ll talk about this a little bit in a few weeks). The way that historians work, I’m now revising that project into a book manuscript, to which I added some new research (I extended the dates of the project, for instance) and refined some of my thinking about what was going on. Because it’s been a while, I’ve also had to take account of some new scholarly work on print and the Revolution that’s come out in the interim.

But wait, you say, didn’t I hear that you work on the post office? Indeed I do. The post office plays a role in my first project—as a site for information circulation, the postal system was critical for printers to get and send news—but I’ve also developed it into a second project that I’ve been working on for a few years. That project looks at the post office as an essentially weird government institution, in a manner of speaking. On the one hand, it’s part of the government, and so people expect it to do things like the government, including serve every single address in America (including a single ZIP code in Nevada that’s the size of the entire state of Maryland). But unlike most government services, the Post Office charges a fee for the service it provides, which means that it in some ways acts like a business. The idea, then, is to tell the story of the Post Office in America (beginning to, er, now) using that as the key focus. I’m in the middle of it, so I don’t have a lot more to say about it now.

As you can see, then, issues about media and communications are pretty close to my heart. Through the semester, you’ll likely see some connections between the work I’m doing and our work in class. And if you haven’t figured it out already, you’ll understand the reasons for my Benjamin Franklin obsession before the month is out.

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