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date: 19 February 2019

Summary and Keywords

Colonial powers used electronic media and communication technologies to assert and extend control over spaces as well as attempt to influence the “hearts and minds” of colonized people, colonial settlers, and Europeans in the metropole. Colonized people adapted and repurposed these technologies, often toward anticolonial ends. In the early mid-19th century, the telegraph effectively became the “nervous system of empire,” collapsing distances and enabling colonizers to surveil and dominate colonized people and institutions from the metropole (with varying degrees of success). In the early 20th century, new media forms like wireless radio were used to “educate” and “civilize” colonial subjects, entertain and relieve the anxiety of settlers, and spread propaganda in the colonies and the metropole about the benefits of imperialism.

These technologies helped to build both deliberate and accidental, colonial and anticolonial, transnational networks. Some of those networks assisted in anticolonial political mobilizations, particularly in India, where the telegraph was accessible to the public and facilitated nationalist organizing, and Algeria, where radio helped to galvanize support for the revolutionary FLN. Postcolonial media landscapes hold the histories of colonial power asymmetries; we see present-day continuities in the concentration of ownership of media and communication technologies among racial and economic elites, and in the Eurocentrism of dominant regimes of representation.

Keywords: colonialism, postcolonialism, media technologies, telegraph, British Empire, French Empire, media studies, communication and critical studies

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