Reaching the People: Communication and Global Orders in the Twentieth Century


Centre member Valeska Huber introduces her new research group at the Center for Global History, Freie Universität Berlin, and provides details of two PhD positions (application deadline 23 April 2018).

I am delighted to announce the launching of a new research group based at the Center for Global History at FU Berlin, which investigates the roles of mass communication in twentieth-century conceptions of global order. In a range of projects, the group members will explore how states and international organisations tried to reach broader sections of the world population via new means of communication and how emerging global publics became sounding boards for political movements all over the world. The research group Reaching the People is funded by the German Research Foundation (DFG) through its Emmy Noether programme and allows me to work with two PhD students as well as other researchers who are interested in related topics.

The research group will explore uncharted terrain both in the field of the history of international orders and in the field of communication history. While long-neglected non-European elites actors have started to receive more attention when it comes to conceptions of global order, the role of global population at large has not figured sufficiently in this field of research. At the same time, global communication history has so far largely focused on the ‘hardware’ of information infrastructures such as the telegraph and other technologies. Yet, from the interwar period onwards, national and international regimes were increasingly concerned with the ‘masses’ in politics and society, leading to an increasing interest in mass education, publicity and propaganda. In the wake of the mobilization of the two world wars and in connection with the political transformations of the twentieth century, communication with new groups moved to the centre of political processes and debates in many parts of the world. Consequently, the question how to control, direct and channel flows of information became a matter of increasing urgency in the age of mass politics. Connecting with present-day concerns, for instance regarding populism and the role of new media, the research group will study communication from a variety of perspectives, including top-down and bottom-up approaches. It will apply these perspectives to a host of themes, from language, literacy and health campaigns, to new audiences for political activism.

Two fully funded positions for PhD researchers are currently advertised via the research group’s website. The deadline for applications is 23 April 2018. In addition, we are excited to find out about researchers in related fields at various stages of their career who might like to collaborate with the group in the future. Get in touch with Valeska Huber,