Wiring the World
The Social and Cultural Creation of Global Telegraph Networks
Columbia University Press 2016
New Books in CommunicationsNew Books in HistoryNew Books in Peoples & PlacesNew Books in Politics & SocietyNew Books in Science & TechnologyNew Books in Science, Technology, and SocietyNew Books in TechnologyNew Books in World AffairsNew Books Network July 10, 2017 Dexter Fergie
Simone Muller’s Wiring the World: The Social and Cultural Creation of Global Telegraph Networks (Columbia University Press, 2016) is a superb account of the laying of submarine telegraph cables in the nineteenth century and the battles over them in the subsequent decades. Her book shows how expanding telegraph networks were instrumental in processes of capitalism, nation-building, and globalization. To track these grand developments, however, Muller reconstructs the network of people who built, managed, and fought over telegraph networks. She calls this eclectic collection of financiers, engineers, entrepreneurs, and politicians “actors of globalization.”
Muller’s book is an historical kaleidoscope that shows the multi-faceted meaning of telegraphy. Her actors imbued telegraphy with hopes of world peace, of Weltcommunication (a predecessor of the global village idea), of a global electric union, and of bolstering the civilizing mission. Even if submarine telegraphy never achieved these aspirations, her book demonstrates just how culturally and socially significant this technology and these networks were to the pre-WWI world.
Her book should be of interest to historians of capitalism, technology, international relations, Europe and the United States, along with anyone curious about the longer duree of globalization. Simone Muller is a principal investigator at the Rachel Carson Center for Environment and Society at the Ludwig Maximilian University of Munich.
Dexter Fergie will be pursuing his PhD in US and Global history at Northwestern University in September 2017.