Authored by: Andreas Fickers

The Handbook of Communication History

Print publication date:  December  2012
Online publication date:  January  2013

Print ISBN: 9780415892599
eBook ISBN: 9780203149119
Adobe ISBN: 9781136514319


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As did television—as both “technology and cultural form” (Williams 1974)—television historiography has also changed significantly over the last decades. This chapter aims at reconstructing five phases of television historiography, based on three main criteria of comparison: (a) the actors and motivations of those doing television history; (b) the sources they did or could use; (c) the questions and concepts that framed their interpretations. The combination of a chronological perspective (phase model) with the tripartite analytical framework presented above is deliberately based on the thought to historicize both the medium of television (its changing dispositifs) and to contextualize television historiography (the changing popular or scholarly interpretations of what television was or meant). This radical historicization of both the means and meanings of television has the double aim of introducing the readers of this book to the long and complex history of television and to the institutional and disciplinary contexts in which television has been studied. On the one hand, historical changes in the legal, economic, political, or cultural environments within which television emerged and developed shaped new questions and debates about television’s past and future. On the other hand, new methodological approaches to and theories of television have highlighted and—simultaneously—neglected specific dimensions of the televisual dispositif, depending of the different waves of intellectual fashions within academia. As the history of television is characterized by a pre-history (1870s–1940s) that is more or less exactly as long—and certainly not less fascinating—as the history of television as a mass medium (1950s–now), the phase model I propose wants to bridge the longue durée of the phenomenon of television along the following phases: Phases of Television Historiography






Identify the many origins of television

Science-fiction literature and egodocuments of television pioneers

Who invented television?


Writing the history of television institutions

Written archives and oral traditions

Who/what shaped our television institutions?


Understanding television culture

Participant observation and own viewing practices

What is television and why study it?


Recognizing and preserving television as cultural heritage

Audiovisual sources of archives and private VHS collections

How to conserve our audiovisual cultural heritage?


Creating access to digitized television material

Online databases and DVDs

How to study television history in the age of abundance?

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