DMin, Leadership and Global Perspectives: Crafting Ministry in an Interconnected World

The Power of The Media

Written by: on November 11, 2015

The Power of the Media
A Social History of the Media: From Gutenberg to the Internet by Asa Briggs and Peter Burke
In this book Asa Briggs and Peter Burke provide an extensive and comprehensive exploration of the social history of the media. They examine the divergent forms communication has taken from oral history to the latest technologies employed in contemporary life. The subject matter and the suggested further reading presented in this book make it a great read and resource for students and professionals in the social and political sciences, history, economics, and media. The whole spectrum of the media is graphically illustrated in this book showing its impact on and link to historical, cultural, and social domains.
The book addresses recurring themes and terminologies that were presented in past reading material with some additional concepts such as, “communication revolution, public sphere, information age, media debates, network, web and blogger.” These reading materials point to the interrelationship of the various academic disciplines as they relate to diverse human interactions over time and space. I found the book to be fascinating and quite informative, but the minutiae of information also made it a little dry and boring at times.
The authors’ stated purpose in writing the book is explained in their statement, “The aim of this book on a vast and ever-expanding theme—is to show the relevance of the past to the present by bringing history into media studies and the media into history.”[1] Although the book title indicates the scope of this history begins with the period of Gutenberg’s printing press and encompasses the era of the Internet, ancient and medieval consideration also come into play. Briggs and Burke argue that it is of prime importance that communication and cultural studies take notice of the role of history, and that historians note the significance of communication theory and technology. The context in which communicators operate in is as important as their message.
The book’s focus is on “the communication of information, ideas, and entertainment in words and images by means of speech, writing, music, print, telegraphy and telephony, radio, television and . . . the Internet.” [2] While concentrating on the perpetual technological changes in media systems, the authors do not get involved in media debates or controversies regarding the social and cultural consequences of media changes.
The portion of the book that resonates with me concerns the subject of communication through oral culture, and images. The authors recognize the significant role oral communication has played in societies around the world, especially in ancient Greece, Europe during the Middle Ages, and areas in Africa. H. J. Chaytor stated, “What we now call medieval literature was produced for a hearing not a reading public.” [3]
Images have been used as forms of communication and propaganda for centuries. Even among the Church Fathers, it was intended that images would have the same impact on the illiterate that writing had on those who could read. “For Christians, images were both a means of conveying information and a means of persuasion.” [4]
In my travels across Europe, I was able to appreciate the visual beauty of the magnificent artistry of several cathedrals long before I understood its purpose and function. The French historian Emile Male is credited with saying, “To the Middle Ages art was didactic.” [5] The images conveyed, “All that it was necessary that they should know—the history of the world from the creation, the dogma of religion, the examples of the saints, the hierarchy of the virtues, the range of the sciences, arts, and crafts: all this was taught them by the windows of the church or by the statues in the porch.” [6]
The subject of images brings to mind the huge pictorial images on buildings or billboards I saw in some parts of Africa to communicate government propaganda, preventive measures regarding health issues, driving safety, and other social concerns to the illiterate population. The book is an eye-opener with respect to my DMIN program because it made me cognizant of possible communication challenges I will face in serving at risk children living in oral cultures that I had not previously considered at all. I now know that my program must include a needs assessment in this area.
1. Asa Briggs and Peter Burke, A Social History of The Media: From Gutenberg to the Internet, 3rd ed. (Cambridge: Polity Press, 2014) viii.
2. Ibid., 1.
3. Ibid., 9.
4. Ibid., 7.
5. Ibid., 8.
6. Ibid., 8.


Briggs, Asa, and Peter Burke. A Social History of The Media: From Gutenberg to the Internet. 3rd ed. Cambridge: Polity Press, 2014.

About the Author

Claire Appiah

13 responses to “The Power of The Media”

  1. mm Rose Anding says:

    Thank Claire for a great blog,
    As you stated, the book was an eye- opener in respect to your DMin program which made you cognizant of the possible communication challenges; but what about the Media Influence on the youth today?

    The world is moving at a fast pace in terms of development of society and up-gradation of technology, but with roses comes thorns. With technology advancements, media has gained a lot of power as it is now easily accessible anywhere and at anytime. It is a widely known fact that adolescents easily fall under the influence of the glamorous world of media.
    There were Shows like 16 and Pregnant being aired on American channels to create a buzz that other shows of the same genre now follow. . The viewership clearly showed the interest of people in this subject which definitely must have amused a lot of teenagers (McCall et al., 2015).
    According to a study, in the United States, 29.4 girls out of 1000 aged between 15 and 19 got pregnant. Have you given much thought to the impact of Media Influence, on the population you have chose to research?

    Thanks for the great insight on the book! Rose Maria

    • Claire Appiah says:

      You ask if I have given much thought to the impact of the Media influence on the population I have chosen to research. Unfortunately, I have not considered this until you mentioned it. Thanks for bringing to the fore an interesting paradox found in some of the societies of the children that are the interest of my research.
      Some of these children are the product of societies with a very low literacy rate because many families cannot afford to send their children to school and far too many individuals grow up as functional illiterates as adults and parents. Also, there are many social, political, and economic reasons for high illiteracy. This population whose communication framework is out of an oral cultural heritage is the population I visualized that my research needed to address.
      As you indicated the influence of the Media is far and wide and changes are taking place at an extremely rapid pace. So, I don’t know what research will reveal. I know that context will be a major factor. My current perception is that at risk street children will be greatly influenced by various forms of the Media. At risk children who are living in refugee camps will be far less influenced by the Media.

  2. mm Marc Andresen says:


    As you wrote, “For Christians, images were both a means of conveying information and a means of persuasion,” do you have any further thoughts about this if you think of it from the perspective of a visual ethnographer?

    • Claire Appiah says:

      Thanks for that great question. The quote represents the way in which the visual ethnographer would interpret the methodology in which information about Christianity was communicated to the illiterate masses. Through the use of these images Christian believers could see, become more knowledgeable about and experience their religious faith. Sarah Pink recognizes the power and pervasiveness of images. Pink writes, “Images are thus an inevitable part of the experiential environments we live in . . . .” (p.1).

      Pink, Sarah. Doing Visual Ethnography. Los Angeles: Sage, 2013.

  3. Claire,

    Great post!! So how can we continue on with the oral tradition? I know that I have students who set right next to each other and would prefer and do text each other instead of taking the time to actually talk to each other. How do we over come this issue?

    I have one method that I use and have introduced to many student leaders: Tell me five things about you that I do not know. Engaging the conversation with anyone: a new acquaintance or someone that you have been friends with for a long time. It is an effective conversation starter. We have even used it on the street and around the world. Getting people to write down five words that describe them. Basically the same concept but even more specific.

    Again, great post.


    • Claire Appiah says:

      It looks like you already have some tried and true remedies to handle this issue. This issue will not go away by itself. Someone has to take the initiative to cause people to pause and think of an alternative way of communicating with one another. You have the right idea—to encourage direct human interaction whenever possible. In situations where you are in charge continue to lay down the ground rules regarding uses of these devices, and of course set the example yourself in your private and professional life. I do not text so this has never been a problem for me. I frequently observe people arriving at a restaurant as a group, and within minutes everyone is on their personal devices. It makes me wonder why they came there together in the first place.

  4. Aaron Cole says:


    Great blog! I agree with your thoughts, especially as they pertain to communication. Why do you think: “the authors do not get involved in media debates or controversies regarding the social and cultural consequences of media changes.


    • Claire Appiah says:

      Aaron C,
      I suspect the reasons Briggs and Burke chose not to include media debates concerning the social and cultural consequences of media changes, is because they were not interested in opening a Pandora’s Box of horrors, and it is a subject at cross-purposes with their stated objectives. The authors indicate this book is a short history of the communication of information and ideas, and the media changes that impacted that history. They state, “An attempt will be made to avoid two dangers—that of asserting that everything has got worse and that of assuming that there has been continuous improvement. Either way, the implication that trends have moved in a single direction must be rejected . . . .” (p.2).

  5. Hi Claire. Enjoyed this a lot. I think it is great that many cultures in Africa still have this strong oral tradition you write about. So wonderful. Last time I was in Uganda we had a great worship service with nothing written dow. There were no lyrics on the screen, yet everyone sang and worshipped. There were no printed bulletins but everyone followed along with the sermon. The preacher preached a great message with nothing written down on paper or iPad. The power of oral tradition!

    • Claire Appiah says:

      Aaron P,
      The worship service you describe is akin to my own worship experiences in Uganda. In the smaller churches the music was usually vocal accompanied by a rhythmic clapping of the hands or by the beating of the drums. Oh, the awesome power of the drums!! A large church that I attended had a full orchestra with the Youth as praise dancers.

  6. Great read, Claire!

    I loved your observation, “They examine the divergent forms communication has taken from oral history to the latest technologies employed in contemporary life.” Have we gone backwards in our effort to communicate? The internet has enabled us to reach a greater mass, but has it limited our effectiveness to reach the individual? Briggs and Burke suggest, “The more the numbers of people using the internet grew, the more it became a kind of epitome of human life itself; and in consequence the more questions were raised about its ‘content’ and the values that it expressed” (Burke, 286). The internet opened up a can of worms – a can of worms that drew children into addiction and antisocial behavior. Has the implement of advanced technology hindered our ability to communication? Advancement must always take place – it must always seek to bridge the gap between changing expressions of dialogue; however, I tend to question the validity of such quick advancement. Have we overwhelmed this generation with new gadgets and created a community of isolationists?

    • Claire Appiah says:

      Just looking at the Internet your quote from Briggs and Burke is very telling. You are correct, “The internet opened up a can of worms—a can of worms that drew children into addiction and antisocial behavior.” To that observation I would add that the Internet has been instrumental in victimizing children by damaging their spirits, their souls and their psyches.
      I do not think that we have gone backwards in our effort to communicate. Because, more than in any other time in history people are more open in discussing any and all topics or issues privately and publicly. There are no longer any subjects that are taboo. All forms of communication these days are more open and therefore have the potential to be more meaningful and productive, but also more destructive and damaging. The value societies place on new technology determines its usefulness and viability. Technology in and of itself is not to be blamed for how people choose to incorporate it into their lives.

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