[Cross-posted from New Books in Science, Technology, and Society] It is not every historian who would offer readers an attempt to explain human nature. In A History of Communications: Media and Society from the Evolution of Speech to the Internet (Cambridge University Press, 2011), Marshall Poe does just that. At the same time, Poe guides readers through the history of communications media from the origin of speech through the culture of the Internet, and provides us with a carefully-articulated theoretical framework for explaining why successive media arose when and where they did, and how they have shaped the way people understand and organize themselves. The book is structured with extraordinary care, but doesn’t let that structure overwhelm the vibrant collection of examples, tales, and (occasionally quite funny) anecdotes along the way. Poe’s writerly voice is wonderfully engaging and colloquial, and he has given us a volume that is full of opportunities for critical reflection on the possibilities of interdisciplinary scholarship across the arts and sciences.
Give the interview a listen. In addition to being an account of an ambitious project with potentially wide-ranging implications for many fields, it’s also a rare opportunity to hear the interviewer interviewed.