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.” 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.”  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.” 
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.” 
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.”  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.” 
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.