Mapping the Field of Media History

John Nerone


Media history is an emerging field. Ambiguities about its object of study and modes of explanation make it difficult to define the boundaries of media history. It is possible to sketch out some existing formations of scholarly work in the area. This introduction offers some suggestions for mapping the field while it introduces the structure and contents of the handbook. It also addresses the received history of the field of media studies. It challenges the likelihood of the emergence of accepted grand narratives about either media history or the foundations of media studies, but proposes that the resulting anarchy is a sign of intellectual robustness.

Media history is an emerging field. Scholars across the full range of the social sciences and humanities now encounter the media as a phenomenon. As they work to comprehend the media, they often turn to historical work as a mode of explanation. There they are discovering a large and overlapping set of theories, problems, and texts. Working sometimes in dialogue with but as often mostly unaware of or unconcerned with each other, they are nevertheless beginning to generate the intellectual and institutional apparatus of an interdisciplinary field. No one knows whether the field will cohere or enjoy only a moment of dynamism before disappearing.

Ten years ago I addressed this emerging field in an essay in Blackwell's Companion to Media Studies (Nerone, 2003). Remarking ...

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